Lebanese PM slams rocket fire on northern Israel, IAF response

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora on Wednesday denounced the launching of Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel the night before as an attempted distrfrom efforts to resolve “internal issues.” In a statement issued by his office, Seniora said he saw the actions as “aimed at destabilizing security and diverting attention from efforts exerted to solve the internal issues prevailing in the country.” The Lebanese premier also condemned Israel’s response to the rocket attacks. IAF jets struck a Palestinian militant training base in southen Lebanon early Wednesday, hours after the Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon slammed into houses in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona. Three Kiryat Shmona residents were treated for shock following the attack. One of the three houses hit was severely damaged, and a dog was badly injured. Seniora called on his Palestinian “brothers” to denounce the launching of Katyusha rockets into Israel, which prompted IAF raids on the hills of Naameh, 15 kilometers south of Beirut. Such acts “only serve the interests of the enemy and hit stability inside Lebanon,” the statement said, calling on Palestinians to work closely with the Lebanese government to find a framework “to end the presence of Palestinian arms outside the camps.” Meanwhile, Lebanese security sources said Lebanon had sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council saying that “the Lebanese authorities are conducting an investigation to find the culprits who launched the Katyusha rockets into northern Israel earlier Wednesday from southern Lebanon.” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also condemned the rocket attacks on Wednesday. He urged the Lebanese government to extend control over “all its territory, to exert its monopoly on the use of force and to put an end to all such attacks.” The IAF strike Wednesday targeted a training base operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a small, Syrian-backed group that has been waging a decades long fight against Israel. The strike was the deepest in Lebanon since June 2004. A PFLP-GC spokesman said the group was not responsible for the Katyusha fire. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Hezbollah and Fatah spokesmen in Lebanon have also denied any connection to the Katyusha attacks. The IDF said, however, that any attack on the northern border emanating from Lebanon is carried out on the initiative of Hezbollah, which has sole control in southern Lebanon. “This is in response to the firing of projectile rockets last night toward Israeli communities,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said Wednesday. The IDF said it views such attacks with “extreme severity” and holds Lebanon responsible. IDF northern front commander Udi Adam was quoted Wednesday as saying that the army knew which Palestinian fwas behind the Katyusha attack, but did not elaborate, Israel Radio reported. “I hope the other side understands the message of the IDF strike,” it quoted Adam as saying. “Otherwise, the IDF will continue to help it understand.” “We will not allow Katyusha fire to become a routine of daily life, absolutely not,” Adam also told Israel’s Army Radio. Asked if Israel will also bomb Syrian targets as it has done in the past when rockets have been fired by groups backed by Damascus, Adam said: “I won’t answer that … we reserve the right to retaliate anyway we see fit.” David Baker, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office, said that “these were unprovoked attacks against Israeli families while they were sleeping in their homes. Israel will not tolerate these attacks and will continue to take the appropriate measures against terror organizations perpetrating them.” The rocket fire caused a power outage in the area of Kiryat Shmona. Power was restored after half an hour. Municipal officials used megaphones to call on the residents to get into bomb shelters or sealed rooms. Residents were told they could leave the shelters some two hours after the attack. Another rocket apparently landed in the western Galilee town of Shlomi, where a blast was reported. Security level raised last week Last week, the IDF had raised the security level along the northern border due to concerns that Hezbollah might launch an attack. Although the security level is always fairly high along the border, it was increased due to an accumulation of warnings that Hezbollah was planning another assault. At the end of November, the army thwarted a Hezbollah attempt to kidnap soldiers in a multi-pronged attack on IDF posts in Har Dov and the border village of Ghajar. Paratroopers killed four Hezbollah militants in Ghajar, and the bodies of three of them were returned to the Lebanese government. Senior Hezbollah officials have said several times recently that they plan to use abductions as a bargaining chip to win the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. A senior military official told Haaretz on Tuesday night that he thinks the real reason Hezbollah has been more active on Israel’s northern front recently is due to the internal situation in Lebanon. He said Hezbollah wants to fortify its position in light of the political storm in Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, after an 18-year presence. While fighting in the area has dropped since then, the border remains tense and Hezbollah frequently targets IDF troops in the disputed Shabaa Farms area. Lebanon and Syria say Shabaa Farms is Lebanese territory, but United Nations cartographers who surveyed the border after the IDF withdrawal said it belongs to that part of Syria which Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel says it will discuss control of the area only in future peace talks with Syria.