Israel bombs Lebanon as conflict at Muslim holy site spreads out from Jerusalem
Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrikes in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip early Friday in response to a barrage of rockets fired toward Israel. The strikes in southern Lebanon are a potentially serious escalation of tensions tied to clashes this week at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. Israel said its operation in Lebanon was aimed solely at Hamas, which it blamed for the rocket attacks. The Israeli strikes killed sheep and caused damage to houses and infrastructure, The Associate Press reports, but there were no casualties reported.
Israeli crackdowns on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound have sparked several recent conflicts with Muslims in the region, including an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza's Hamas government in 2021. The most recent clash started Wednesday, when Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque twice, prompting Thursday's rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon. The dozens of rockets caused some damage but resulted in no reported casualties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would "exact a significant price from our enemies," and accused the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah of at least knowing about the rocket attacks. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said military operations inside Lebanese territory will only "destabilize the situation." Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006.
Egypt is working with Hamas and Israel to avoid further escalation, a Palestinian official said, and Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said Friday that both sides want to avoid a full-blown conflict. "Quiet will be answered with quiet," he said. But "all our eyes are now on Jerusalem." In Jerusalem, Israeli police again used batons on Palestinian worshipers attending Friday morning prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Tensions are especially high because Muslims are observing the holy month of Ramadan and Jews are celebrating Passover.
All this comes after an especially deadly start to 2023 for Palestinians. "Nearly 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the start of the year," AP reports. "During that time, 16 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis."