Israel strikes Lebanon, Gaza, damages children's hospital in Palestinian enclave

Israel strikes Lebanon, Gaza, damages children's hospital in Palestinian enclave
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Explosions were heard in Lebanon's Tyre region as well as the besieged Gaza Strip, where Israeli air raids had begun before midnight.
The Israeli strikes were launched around 4am (0100 GMT), hitting both the besieged Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, the army said [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty]

Israel launched airstrikes before dawn on Friday on the besieged Gaza Strip and Lebanon, saying it was targeting the Palestinian militant group Hamas after several dozen rockets fired at Israel from both territories.

The strikes were launched around 4am (0100 GMT), hitting both the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, an Israeli army statement said.

The military "struck targets including terror infrastructures belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation in southern Lebanon", it said.

It is the first time Israel has confirmed an attack on Lebanese territory since April 2022.

Explosions were heard by AFP journalists in Lebanon's Tyre region as well as the Gaza Strip, where Israeli air raids had begun before midnight.

AFP journalists near Tyre said they heard at least three explosions shortly after Friday's strikes, and a resident of a nearby Palestinian refugee camp said he "heard explosions".

"At least two shells fell near the camp", Abu Ahmad told AFP.

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Tensions have soared in Palestine and Israel during what is both the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover, prompting international calls for restraint.

The latest flare-up of violence comes after Israeli forces raided occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – Islam's third-holiest site – twice on Wednesday, wounding hundreds of Palestinians.

On Thursday, the Israeli army said more than 30 rockets had been fired from Lebanese territory into Israel in the largest escalation on the northern border since Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006.

This was followed by explosions in the Gaza Strip, heard by AFP journalists. The Israeli army said it had hit two tunnels and "two weapon manufacturing sites" belonging to Hamas.

Hours before Israel launched the airstrikes into southern Lebanon, several missiles were fired from Gaza towards Israel.

The army said its air defences intercepted 25 of the rockets fired, while five hit Israeli territory.

'A heavy price'

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht blamed Palestinian militants for the rocket fire from Lebanon.

"We know for sure it's Palestinian fire," he told reporters. "It could be Hamas, it could be Islamic Jihad."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Israel's response, tonight and in the future, will exact a heavy price."

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, condemned the "appalling Israeli aggression" and said it "holds the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the consequences of such grave aggression".

The Palestinian health ministry said "partial damage" was done to the Al-Dorra children's hospital in Gaza City in the overnight strikes, condemning the "unacceptable" act.

Spokesperson Hecht said the Israeli army was aware of the Palestinian allegation and looking into it.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which patrols the area along the Israeli border, urged restraint.

"Both sides [Lebanon and Israel] have said they do not want a war," UNIFIL said in a statement, adding that force leader Major General Aroldo Lazaro was speaking with authorities from the two sides.

"The actions over the past day are dangerous and risk a serious escalation," UNIFIL warned.

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, had on Thursday rejected any "escalation" from his country after the rocket attack.

Israeli emergency services reported one man lightly wounded by shrapnel and a woman injured while running to a shelter during the attack.

Al-Aqsa raid

Israeli riot police had on Wednesday stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a pre-dawn raid, detaining and injuring hundreds of Palestinians.

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Israeli forces the Al-Aqsa compound again after taraweeh, special Ramadan evening prayers. They attacked worshippers with sound bombs and rubber bullets before expelling them, The New Arab's Arabic sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.

The violence sparked an exchange of rockets and airstrikes with militants in the Gaza Strip.

The US said it recognised "Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression", State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

UN chief António Guterres called on "all actors to exercise maximum restraint".

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had warned it would support "all measures" that Palestinian groups may take against Israel after the raids.

The Lebanese group has close ties with Hamas and with Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group based in the Gaza Strip.

The rocket fire came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Lebanon for a visit.

Haniyeh said late on Thursday that the Palestinians would not "sit with their arms crossed" in the face of Israeli "aggression" against Al-Aqsa.