Lebanon rocket fire draws Israeli artillery strike

Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:26am EST

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Rockets launched from south Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday and Israel responded with artillery shells across a border that has been largely quiet since a war in 2006.

The cross-border fire, which caused no injuries on either side, coincided with heightened political tension in Beirut following the assassination on Friday of a former Lebanese government minister.

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets.

Israeli authorities said five rockets were launched from Lebanon but only one or two struck inside Israel, near the border town of Kiryat Shmona.

A U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, urging restraint, said it was working with the Lebanese Army to obtain further details of the attack.

South Lebanon is a stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group that battled Israel seven years ago and is engaged in Syria's civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad. But Palestinian factions are also in the area.

The strike, to which Israel said it responded with a barrage of shelling, came two days after a bomb blast in Beirut killed Mohamad Chatah, a former minister and leading adviser to Sunni Muslim former prime minister Saad al-Hariri.

Hariri has suggested Hezbollah was behind the assassination, drawing parallels with the 2005 explosion which killed his father Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah condemned Chatah's killing as a "horrible crime".   Continued...

An Israeli police explosive expert carries the remains of a rocket after it landed near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Ancho Gosh/Jinipix