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Israel firing on Lebanon after rocket strike

Israeli forces fired mortars across the border into southern Lebanon after rockets were fired into northern Israel, Lebanese security officials said.

world Updated: Jan 08, 2009 13:12 IST

Israeli forces fired mortars across the border into southern Lebanon on Thursday after rockets were fired into northern Israel, Lebanese security officials said. The brief cross-border exchange was the first since Israel launched an offensive against the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip on December 27, a battle that has so far killed more than 700 Palestinians.

Although it was unclear who fired the rockets and whether it signaled the start of a wider conflict, the exchange was certain to raise tensions between Hezbollah and Israel after days with the two sides' trading threats but holding their fire.

The Lebanese officials said up to three Katyusha rockets were fired into Israel from an area north of the Lebanese coastal village of Naqoura. The Israelis fired back with about six artillery shells. There was no immediate report on casualties from the shells falling inside Lebanon. TV stations said the shells crashed in a valley near a village about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) north of the Israeli border.

In Israel, police reported at least three rockets fell around the northern Israeli border town of Nahariya in the morning. Rescue services say at least one person was lightly wounded. No group has claimed responsibility for the rocket firing. The militant group Hezbollah had no immediate comment, and its TV station only carried the reports of the exchange. The heavily armed group is a strong ally of Hamas. But it has held its fire during the Israeli offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which Israel has said is designed to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel. Hezbollah has said it did want to draw Lebanon into a war but said it's ready to fight if attacked. Radical Palestinian factions also have a presence in Lebanon. The Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command has warned it might open other fronts against Israel if the attacks on Gaza continued.

On December 24, three days before the Gaza fighting broke out, Lebanese troops discovered and dismantled eight Katyushas rockets that were set to be fired on Israel. No group has claimed responsibility for the rockets.

Israel has warned of massive retaliation if attacked. The border area in southern Lebanon is controlled by Lebanese troops and UN peacekeepers since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, a brutal 34-day conflict that killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and about 160 Israelis.