Israeli officials said a barrage of rockets was fired at the country from inside Lebanon on Thursday, raising fears of a possible escalation of violence in the heart of the Middle East. The attack comes during a sensitive holiday period, when Muslims celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, Jews celebrate Passover and Christians begin the week of Easter.
The Israeli military reported that 34 rockets were fired at the Lebanese border, 25 of which were shot down by the country’s Iron Dome defense system. Five rockets landed in Israeli territory, the military said, and five more are being investigated.
The UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, said there were “multiple rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel” on Thursday. No faction in Lebanon immediately claimed responsibility.
“The current situation is extremely serious,” said the head of UNIFIL. “UNIFIL calls for restraint and to avoid further escalation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is receiving continuous updates on the security situation and will conduct an assessment with the heads of security institutions,” his office said Thursday.
The Israeli army said it would respond after a security cabinet meeting later in the day and a “situational assessment”.
Israel’s emergency medical service said one person was injured by shrapnel and another was injured while running to safety.
Seven rockets were also fired into the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants, the Israeli army said, as violence erupted in the country for the second night in a row. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest rocket attack, and both Palestinian groups and Hezbollah’s military wing are active in Lebanon.
Israel’s state media reported Thursday that the military struck targets in southern Lebanon in response to the rockets. Israel said it struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after rockets were fired on Wednesday.
Between Wednesday and Thursday night, Israeli police clashed with Muslim worshipers who tried to barricade themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The clashes were less violent than the night before. The Palestinian Red Crescent said six people were injured.
Since the start of Ramadan on March 22, worshipers have been trying to spend the night at Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is usually only allowed during the last ten days of the Muslim holiday, and Israeli police have been evicting them each night.
On Tuesday night, Israeli police stormed al-Aqsa, where worshipers had barricaded themselves inside, injuring dozens of Palestinians and arresting hundreds in an attack widely condemned by Muslim-majority countries.
Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site, sits atop the same hill in Jerusalem as the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. The site is open to Muslim worshipers, but not to Jews or Christians, under the terms of a long-standing agreement.
Under that “status quo” arrangement, the sensitive site is administered by an Islamic foundation called the Waqf, which called Tuesday’s raid a “flagrant violation of the mosque’s identity and function as a place of worship for Muslims.”
Tensions have risen in the region since Israel’s new far-right, ultra-nationalist governing coalition took power under Netanyahu late last year. The Israeli police are now controlled by one of the most radical members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was previously convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization.