Two Israeli sisters were killed and their mother seriously wounded in a shooting in the occupied West Bank Friday, hours after Israel bombarded Gaza and Lebanon following rocket fire by Palestinian militants.
The broadening of the conflict since Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque drew appeals for restraint from the international community but the Israeli army vowed it would not allow Palestinian factions to open a new front in Lebanon.
A barrage of over 30 rockets fired from Lebanon Thursday marked the biggest escalation since Israel fought a 34-day war with Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in 2006.
The Israeli army said it had launched a manhunt for the perpetrators of Friday’s shooting.
It said the women were fired on in a car as they passed through Hamra junction, in the northern part of the Jordan Valley.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Oded Revivi, mayor of the illegal West Bank settlement Efrat, confirmed the two dead were sisters, adding that the third woman who was seriously wounded was their mother.
The attack came after the army carried out air strikes and an artillery bombardment before dawn in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
In response to Thursday’s rocket fire, Israel “struck targets, including terror infrastructures, belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation in southern Lebanon”, the army said — 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 in the Tyre area said they heard at least three blasts, while Abu Ahmad, a resident of a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, also said he “heard explosions”.
“At least two shells fell near the camp,” he told AFP.
– Rocket launcher dismantled –
The Lebanese army said it had found and dismantled a multiple rocket launcher in an olive grove in the Marjayoun area near the border, still loaded with six rockets primed to fire at Israel.
In Gaza, the Israeli army said it had hit two tunnels and “two weapon manufacturing sites” belonging to Hamas “as a response to the security violations of Hamas during the last few days”.
The army said air defences intercepted 25 rockets on Thursday, while five hit Israeli territory.
Israel “will not allow the Hamas terrorist organisation to operate from within Lebanon and holds the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory”, it added.
On Friday, Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem said “the threats and intimidation of the Zionist leaders will lead nowhere”, adding “the entire axis of resistance” was on alert.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht had 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.”
Hamas condemned the “appalling Israeli aggression” and said it holds Israel “fully responsible for the consequences”.
The Palestinian health ministry reported “partial damage” to the Al-Dorra children’s hospital in Gaza City, condemning the “unacceptable” act, while Hecht said the Israeli army was looking into the allegation.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which patrols the area along the Israeli border, urged restraint, adding: “Both sides have said they do not want a war.”
Israeli emergency services on Thursday reported one man lightly wounded by shrapnel and a woman injured while running to a shelter.
– Mosque raid –
Israeli riot police had stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque in a pre-dawn Wednesday raid aiming to dislodge “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.
The violence sparked an exchange of rockets and air strikes with militants in Gaza.
The United States recognised “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself”, while France vowed “unwavering” support for “Israel’s security and Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty”.
UN chief Antonio Guterres meanwhile called on “all actors to exercise maximum restraint”.
A spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry “strongly condemned the attacks of the aggressor Zionist regime,” and Russia called for “an end to the violence” and a “lasting ceasefire”.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad informed Egypt, a longstanding mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, that rocket fire would continue “if Israel continues its aggressions and air strikes but, if these aggressions stop, they will cease fire,” Palestinian sources said.
The rocket fire came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Lebanon. He vowed on Thursday that Palestinians would not “sit with their arms crossed”.