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Israeli fighter jets strike rocket launch sites in Lebanon, military says

Military says attacks launched in response to Wednesday's rocket fire aimed towards northern Israel from Lebanon
Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said that Israeli warplanes had carried out two raids in the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Mahmudiya (File pic/AFP)

Israeli fighter jets struck what its military said were rocket launch sites in south Lebanon early on Thursday in its first such air strikes on its neighbour in seven years. 

The Israeli military said it had reacted in response to earlier projectile fire towards Israel from Lebanese territory.

Lebanon condemned the strikes as an "escalation" that could mark a change of tactics by Israel, while UN peacekeepers urged restraint.

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Two rockets launched from Lebanon on Wednesday struck Israel, which responded with artillery fire amid heightened regional tensions over an alleged Iranian attack on an oil tanker in the Gulf last week.

There was no claim of responsibility for the rocket strike, launched from an area of south Lebanon controlled by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. There were no casualties.

The Israeli military said on Thursday that its "fighter jets struck the launch sites and infrastructure used for terror in Lebanon from which the rockets were launched".

An additional target in the area that was a source of rocket fire in the past was also struck, the military said.

'Intention to escalate attacks'

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: "Israel's use of its air force to target Lebanese villages is the first of its kind since 2006, and suggests an intention to escalate attacks" against Lebanon.

Israeli warplanes last struck Lebanese territory near the border with Syria in 2014, but they have not targeted Hezbollah's south Lebanon strongholds since the movement fought a devastating conflict with Israel in 2006.

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Aoun also said in a tweet the strikes were a direct threat to the security and stability of southern Lebanon and violated UN Security Council resolutions.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said that Israeli warplanes had carried out two raids in the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Mahmudiya, about 12km from the Israeli border.

Speaking to Israel's YNet TV, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: "This was an attack meant to send a message... Clearly we could do much more, and we hope we won't arrive at that."

The border has been mostly quiet since the 2006 war, but small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past, including two rockets launched towards Israel in July.

Gantz said he believed a Palestinian faction had launched the rockets.

The UN peacekeeping force Unifil, which has been deployed in Lebanon since 1978 and has patrolled the border since 2006, called for restraint from all sides.

"Unifil's head of mission and force commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, was in immediate contact with the parties," the force said in statement on Wednesday.

"He urged them to cease fire and to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation, especially on this solemn anniversary.

"It is imperative to restore stability immediately so Unifil can begin its investigation."

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Beirut port blast in which more than 200 people were killed.