Al-Qaida linked groups launched Katyushas

2 Katyusha rockets hit North; Barak: "This doesn't change status quo;" UNIFIL: No suspect ruled out.

Shlomi Katyusha 224.88 (photo credit: )
Shlomi Katyusha 224.88
(photo credit: )
Palestinian terror groups affiliated with al-Qaida are the prime suspects in the firing of two Katyusha rockets into Shlomi early Tuesday morning, the day before US President George W. Bush's historic visit to Israel. The rockets - both 107mm Katyushas - hit the northern town of Shlomi and appeared to have been fired from the hills near the southern Lebanese village of Labouna. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the attack a "severe incident" but said that Israel did not plan to take any action that would alter the status quo it had achieved along the border following the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Israel did file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council. Israeli defense officials, as well as a top commander in UNIFIL, told The Jerusalem Post that no group had been ruled out as being responsible for the rocket attack but that the most likely culprit was a Palestinian terror group affiliated with al-Qaida, such as Fatah al-Islam from the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp. The officials said that the attack was likely timed to coincide with Bush's visit to Israel and to send him a message. "Hizbullah has no interest in starting a new conflict with Israel today," a top defense official said. "The smaller Palestinian groups are, however, interested in getting on the map and showing Bush as well as Israel that they, too, have power and can destabilize Lebanon." Minister of Immigrant Absorption and the Development of the Negev and Galilee Ya'acov Edri echoed the defense establishment's assessment, claiming that terror groups were trying to "ignite the region" ahead of Bush's visit. Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb went off next to a UNIFIL convoy driving on a highway south of Beirut and wounded two peacekeepers. Even though Hizbullah was not believed to have been directly behind that attack, a top officer in the IDF's Northern Command said that the group was in fact responsible since "nothing happens in southern Lebanon without Hizbullah knowing about it." The officer added that Israel viewed the Lebanese government as bearing the ultimate responsibility for what happens in the country. A UNIFIL team visited Shlomi to collect evidence from the site of the Katyusha attack and officials said the peacekeeping group was working to ascertain the exact location from which the rockets were fired. Monday night's rocket fire was the first Katyusha attack since June, when two rockets landed in the Kiryat Shmona area, one hitting a car in an industrial zone north of the city and the other landing in a residential area. The "Jihadi Badr Brigades - Lebanon branch," a previously unknown Palestinian group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the June attack. In response to Monday night's attack, Shlomi Council head Gabi Na'aman said that his town was ready to withstand renewed barrages of rockets from Lebanon, but added that he was "concerned that American President George Bush's visit" could cause increased tensions along the northern border. "This is an impossible, untenable situation," said Na'aman, discussing the security situation in the development town that sits just south of the Lebanese border. "It causes damage to our town, economically. But we live here from a sense of true Zionism, on the Lebanese border." One Shlomi resident said that most people in the town first learned of the rocket fire only hours after it occurred, from broadcasts on national media. Simona Solomanov, whose house was hit by one of the rockets, said that she was awakened by the noise of the explosion during the night, but that her husband dismissed the noise as thunder. A chain of thunderstorms had been rattling the area throughout the evening, residents said. Na'aman said that Shlomi's bomb shelters would only be opened following orders from the IDF, but emphasized that they were ready at a moment's notice to support sustained use for at least two to three days. Even during this relatively limited incident, said Na'aman, the municipality had already begun to implement the lessons learned from the barrages that hit Shlomi and the rest of the Galilee during the Second Lebanon War. As soon as the municipality found out about the rocket attack Tuesday morning, they began to operate the 106 municipal hotline, which, as a lesson from the 2006 war, was newly outfitted with 30 independent phone lines to provide answers to concerned citizens. "Mostly, in a case like this, our job is to be out in the field with the IDF and police responders, trying to calm the residents, and making sure that the insurance assessors are on the scene," explained Na'aman. "The state of Israel hasn't done a single thing since the war to strengthen the north, either socially or economically," said Shlomi Buhbout, the head of the Ma'alot-Tarshiha Regional Council and chairman of the Association of Confrontation Line Communities. "The rockets may not have caused physical damage or injuries, but they did harm the image of the confrontation line communities, because anyone who wants to invest in industry or to move to live here will think twice before taking that step."