katyusha 298 channel 2.
(photo credit: Channel 2)
For the first time since the Second Lebanon War, northern Israel came under rocket fire when two Katyushas hit Kiryat Shmona on Sunday evening.
Hizbullah immediately denied responsibility and IDF sources said it was possible the rockets were fired by Palestinians affiliated with Hamas or al-Qaida.
A high-ranking IDF officer in the Northern Command said Israel would demand that UNIFIL fulfill its mandate to prevent attacks on Israel.
The IDF was still checking intelligence reports in an attempt to discover who was behind the attack, the officer said. It was possible that Hizbullah was behind the attack, he said, but it was more probable that the rockets were fired by a small terrorist cell - possibly Palestinian and Hamas-affiliated.
"Our claims to UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces that weapons have been smuggled into Lebanon have turned out to be true," the officer said. "We expect UNIFIL to fulfill its mandate and the Lebanese army to take responsibility for what is happening in southern Lebanon."
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UNIFIL called the rocket attack a "serious breach" of the cease-fire and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint. "Today's rocket attack from south Lebanon is considered a serious violation of Security Council Resolution 1701 and a serious breach of the cessation of hostilities agreement," said spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane.
The 107-mm. rockets - the most primitive Katyusha, with a 2-kilogram warhead - were fired from near the village of Taiba, not far from UNIFIL observation posts. Lebanese sources said a white Honda rental car pulled up into a bushy area outside the village, fired the rockets and quickly fled. A third rocket was found nearby by Lebanese troops.
The IDF was not expected to respond to the attack for a number of reasons: first, so as not to disrupt Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to the United States; second, so as not to open a second front while the IDF is busy dealing with the Gaza Strip; and third, to give the Lebanese government an opportunity to deal with the incident.
A government official traveling with Olmert in New York said Israel would show restraint. "This is an attempt to provoke Israel into a response," the official said. "Israel will not succumb to this provocation but will monitor the situation carefully."
The high-ranking Northern Command officer said the IDF had decided not to activate sirens that would have warned of the incoming rockets. He said that the decision was based on a security assessment of the threat and had government approval.
If, in fact, Hizbullah was not involved, this would not be the first time other groups have used Katyushas to attack Israel. In late 2005, several Katyusha rockets were fired into Israel, and were found to have been launched by an al-Qaida-affiliated Palestinian group, not Hizbullah.
One of Sunday's rockets created a small crater in a street and damaged a car. A sign at a mineral water factory in the northern part of Kiryat Shmona was pockmarked by shrapnel from the second rocket.
"I heard a huge boom, and saw a giant mushroom cloud," a Kiryat Shmona woman said. "I can't believe we are going back to the same situation that we were in a year ago."
Kiryat Shmona Mayor Haim Barbivai echoed the sentiment, calling for a tough response from both the Israeli and Lebanese governments. "Heaven help us if we have another summer like the last one. That would be a tragedy," he said.
The Israel Police's Cmdr. Nir Mariash told Channel 2 that residents of the North were not instructed to enter bomb shelters, but rather "to maintain normal life."
Reacting to news of the rocket strike, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said he was "sure Hizbullah [would] try to deny a connection to the Katyusha rockets, as they did on the second day of the war."
"The people who launched the rockets wanted to hint to Israel to be careful with... Hamas in the Gaza Strip, because Hamas and Hizbullah are two heads of the same monster, Iran," Dichter said.
"We are responsible for our citizens in Kiryat Shmona, and if the siren didn't go off, it's a failure. If terrorists can launch rockets without us knowing in advance, it's a failure," he said.
Rebecca Anna Stoil and Gil Hoffman contributed to the report.