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(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF Northern Command was maintaining a high level of alert on Monday after the security establishment expressed concern that Hizbullah would renew its rocket attacks on Israel's northern border.
Commander of the Galilee Division Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch said Monday that the Katyusha attacks on the northern cities had been planned far in advance - and were not a reaction to the assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader in Sidon last week, Army Radio reported.
You can't plan something like that in three days, he said.
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened vengeance after the Israel Air Force bombed the movement's Lebanese bases on Sunday in retaliation for a pre-dawn Katyusha barrage on an IDF base near Safed. At least 10 Hizbullah operatives were killed and dozens were wounded in the reprisal strikes.
"I can confirm that the north of occupied Palestine is within the range of our missiles," threatened Nasrallah.
Meanwhile, Iran has equipped Hizbullah guerrillas with long-range rockets capable of hitting southern Israel, the Haaretz
newspaper reported Monday.
The rockets have a range of about 200 kilometers, or double that of weapons previously in Hizbullah's arsenal, putting Beersheba within striking range.
The rockets are designed to strike general areas, such as towns and cities, and carry a warhead estimated to weigh 600 kilograms, the report said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned on Sunday night that Israel would strike back harshly if terrorists in Lebanon continued firing on Israel. "They will receive a clear and harsh response if they do not stop," Olmert declared, calling the attacks "provocative and dangerous." He was speaking to reporters in Jerusalem after meeting President Moshe Katsav.
The clashes followed a surprise launching of at least six Katyusha rockets before dawn at an IAF air traffic control base on Mount Meron. These were the first rockets to hit so deep inside Israel - some 10 kilometers from the border. At least three of the 122mm rockets reportedly fell in a residential area of the base and damaged a building. One soldier was lightly wounded and treated for shock.
After the Katyushas hit the Mount Meron base, IAF jets struck twice into Lebanese territory - the first on the general headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Sultan Yacoub, a village about five kilometers from the Syrian border, and the second on a base at the village of Nueima, some eight kilometers south of Beirut.
The afternoon clashes began when a Hizbullah sniper shot and moderately wounded a soldier near Kibbutz Manara on the northern border, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam told reporters at a briefing at Northern Command headquarters. Troops returned fire and gun battles erupted across the length of the Israel-Lebanon border.
IDF artillery and IAF attack helicopters retaliated, striking 20 different Hizbullah targets in southern Lebanon, including outposts and two cars from which rockets had been fired.
AP contributed to this report.