JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s air force on Friday bombed a militant base in Lebanon used by allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and radical Islamists in retaliation for a rare cross-border rocket salvo a day earlier, Israeli and Lebanese officials said.
There were no reported casualties in the Israeli raid near the Rashidiyi Palestinian refugee camp between Sidon and Beirut, or the rocket strike on Thursday in Israel’s northern Galilee region.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon called the air strike a “response” to the rocket fire and said he “holds the Lebanese government responsible for what happens in its midst and won’t accept any shooting or provocations”.
An al Qaeda-associated Sunni Muslim group calling itself the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack on Israel.
However, the Lebanese army said in a statement that Israel had stuck a network of tunnels used by the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in Naameh, an area between Sidon and Beirut, leaving a five-metre-wide (16-foot) crater in the ground.
A Lebanese security source said the camp was home as well to Islamist militants.
Israel routinely retaliates for cross-border shootings, although such altercations have been rare since an inconclusive 2006 war with Hezbollah Shi‘ite Muslim guerrillas in Lebanon.
Israel has also been reluctant to open a Lebanese front due to spiralling instability in the region, but fears al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria may turn their sights on the Jewish state and the occupied Golan Heights or that Hezbollah may do so to deflect criticism from the Sunni Arab world for backing Assad.
While Hezbollah has lined up behind Assad, al Qaeda affiliates are fighting with Syrian rebels against the government in Damascus.
Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Khaled Oweis in Amman; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Dan Williams, Editing by Mark Heinrich