BEIRUT, (AFP) — Extremists tied to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon may have been behind the latest rocket attack from the south into Israel, a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon official said on Saturday.
“My understanding is that they (the investigations) are focusing on the extremist groups that might be linked to the refugee camps,” UNIFIL political adviser Milos Strugar told AFP.
At least two rockets fired from the village of Al-Qlaileh in southern Lebanon slammed into Israel on Friday, triggering retaliatory artillery fire.
Israel said on Saturday it had lodged a complaint with the United Nations.
Strugar said that UNIFIL immediately launched an investigation into the incident, in coordination with the Lebanese army.
“The investigation in this regard is in the hands of the Lebanese authorities, primarily the army, but my understanding is that there are some indications pointing in the direction of some extremist groups and I understand also that the investigation is focusing on these extremist groups,” he said.
He would not give further details.
Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps are considered fertile breeding grounds for extremism. The army does not generally enter the camps, leaving responsibility for security to Palestinian factions instead.
“The investigation is ongoing, so to talk about the details could be counter-productive,” Strugar said. “The most important issue is to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
No casualties were reported on either side in Friday’s incident.
The Lebanese army said the village of Al-Qlaileh was hit in the retaliatory bombardment and ambulances were rushed from the port city of Tyre, nine kilometres (five miles) away.
On Saturday UN peacekeepers were monitoring the border, where the situation was reported “calm,” UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane told AFP.
The peacekeeping troops continued to urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint following the attack, the third of its kind this year.
In January, during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, four rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel, wounding two women.
In February, Israeli artillery bombarded Al-Qlaileh in response to a rocket attack. There were no casualties in Lebanon side while a few Israelis were lightly wounded.
A Hezbollah official in Beirut declined on Saturday to comment. But the Shiite militia, which fought a devastating 34-day war with Israel in 2006 and has its stronghold in the south, denied responsibility for February’s attack.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, on Saturday lodged a complaint with the United Nations over the attack.
Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also accused Lebanon of “turning a blind eye” to arms transfers to Hezbollah, and said the transitional government in Beirut “must assume its responsibilities.
“For now, our punctual response in the field is sufficient. But this isolated incident demonstrates the terrorists’ potential, and Israel will respond massively if the calm is seriously broken,” he told public radio.
Lebanon entered a government void after Saad Hariri decided to step down as prime minister-designate on Thursday, more than 70 days after his appointment.
Hariri, whose alliance defeated a rival Hezbollah-led camp in a general election in June, said his attempts to form national unity government had proved fruitless, and accused the opposition of blocking his efforts.
Russia warned against any actions that could raise tensions in the Middle East.
The foreign ministry said in a statement in Moscow that the latest incident was “a source of particular concern in connection with continuing efforts to form a government in Lebanon.”
Washington has said the rocket attacks violated UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war. The resolution demanded the disarming of all militant groups in Lebanon including Hezbollah, and an end to arms smuggling across its borders.
UNIFIL was established in 1978 to monitor the border with Israel and was expanded after the 2006 war. The force currently numbers between 12,500 and 13,000 troops.
More than 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon in the 2006 conflict, most of them civilians. More than 160 Israelis also died, most of them soldiers.