ADAYSSEH, Lebanon (AFP) -Lebanese troops battled militants on two fronts on Monday, hunting gunmen who fired rockets into Israel and tightening the noose on Islamists making a last stand in a refugee camp.
Lebanese troops and UN peacekeepers were on full alert in the south a day after rockets were fired at Israel for the first time since it fought last year’s devastating war against the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
The attack on Kiryat Shmona caused no injuries and just minor damage, but it raised tensions in Lebanon, reeling from a series of deadly bombings, battles with Sunni Muslim extremists in the north and continuing political crisis.
Armoured vehicles of both the Lebanese army and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrolled the road running parallel to the border with Israel, an AFP correspondent said.
The army and police also set up snap checkpoints in the border zone a day after the unidentified militants fired two rockets into the north of the Jewish state.
Israel said the Hezbollah was not involved in the attack, which it blamed on an unnamed Palestinian organisation. Hezbollah itself also denied responsibility.
The Beirut government vowed to track down those responsible.
“The state, through all its security services, will not spare any effort to find the party behind this act which aims at destabilising (Lebanon),” Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said in a statement.
UNIFIL condemned the incident as a “serious breach” of the truce that ended the Hezbollah-Israel conflict, and urged all parties to exercise restraint.
Under UN Security Council resolution 1701 which halted the 34-day war last August 14, UN-backed Lebanese troops were deployed along the border with Israel in an area where Hezbollah fighters had previously ruled unchallenged.
The resolution also called for the disarming of all militias — meaning Hezbollah as well as Palestinian militant groups.
The Beirut government has demanded that all pro-Syrian Palestinian organisations close any military bases they have outside refugee camps in Lebanon, but this has so far been ignored.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described Sunday’s rocket attack as “very disturbing,” and said it may have been launched “by Al-Qaeda or a Jihad movement wanting to create a provocation in order to deflect attention from the events in Gaza.”
The rocket attack came after the Islamist Hamas movement ousted the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas from the Gaza Strip, itself a launchpad for rocket fire into southern Israel.
In northern Lebanon, the army continued to bombard entrenched fighters of the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam, a day after saying it had destroyed major militant positions.
Tanks and artillery fired a shell every five minutes at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared north of Tripoli, hitting buildings and sparking several fires, an AFP correspondent said.
On Sunday, the army blew up two major militant positions inside the camp, an army officer said.
Fatah al-Islam had used the buildings as firing points to target Lebanese troops besieging Nahr al-Bared since fierce fighting erupted there on May 20.
Lebanese flags flew over the two buildings on Monday.
The army said it has advanced further into the camp since Friday, pushing the militants back into the southern sector of the shantytown. No Fatah al-Islam member could be reached for comment.
The fighting has killed 135 people, including 68 soldiers and 50 Islamists.
Around 2,000 Palestinian refugees are believed to be still holed up inside the camp, which was home to 31,000 people before the eruption of the deadliest internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.