By Amy Teibel, Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon on Sunday that Israel “will not hold back” when attacked and holds the Lebanese government responsible for any assault on his country.
Netanyahu delivered the warning after two rockets fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Friday. Israel responded immediately with artillery fire, and the exchange ratcheted up persisting tensions between the two countries.
“We view this very gravely,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet. “We will not hold back when Israeli territory comes under fire, and will not reconcile ourselves to missile fire or any other form of terror directed at Israeli citizens.”
It was not immediately known who fired the rockets Friday. But radical Palestinian factions in Lebanon have been blamed in four firings at Israel this year.
The Israel-Lebanon border has been tense since Israel mounted a monthlong war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in the summer of 2006. More than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 160 Israelis died in that conflict, which ended in a United Nations-brokered truce.
On Sunday, Netanyahu put the onus of maintaining the cease-fire squarely on the shoulders of the Lebanese government.
“We see it responsible for all these violations and hostilities directed at our territory that originate from Lebanese soil,” he said.
Hezbollah has a large rocket arsenal, but is not believed to have used them against Israel since the 2006 fighting. It has denied involvement in previous rocket attacks on Israel.
But friction between Israel and Hezbollah has escalated as Lebanese politicians wrangle over the formation of a new government. The Hezbollah-led opposition would likely be a part of that cabinet.
In mid-July, a suspected Hezbollah arms depot exploded near the Israeli border. Israel said this was proof the group was rearming and stashing weapons in populated villages.
Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper reported Sunday that the U.N. force in Lebanon, which was beefed up significantly after the war to monitor the border, had been warned of a possible attack 10 days earlier.
The U.N. force relayed this information to the Lebanese army two days before the attack, the report said.
A spokesman for the U.N. force, Milos Strugar, said an investigation under way “is pointing in the direction of some extremist groups.” He did not elaborate.