JERUSALEM — A rocket fired from Lebanon landed near a kibbutz in Israel early Monday, prompting return shelling by the Israeli military. The cross-border strikes marked the first such exchange in months and raised fears that recent unrest in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip could spread to Israel’s northern border.
Israeli artillery units fired some 50 shells toward the identified launch site, an army official said. Military officials told Israeli media they suspected Palestinian militants were more likely to be responsible than Hezbollah, the Iranian-aligned group that, along with its allies, holds the majority of seats in Lebanon’s parliament.
The head of a United Nations force responsible for monitoring the Lebanese border called for restraint from both sides.
Since recent clashes between police and protesters at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli officials have been braced for possible responses from militant groups.
Palestinians have accused Israel of trampling on Muslim primacy at the site, which is considered sacred in Islam and Judaism. Police have pursued rock-throwing protesters into the mosque and, at other times, have allowed Jewish visitors to the plaza to pray in violation of long-standing agreements, Palestinians said. Non-Muslim prayer is prohibited at the site, under administration by a Jordanian Islamic trust, but Jewish activists often defy the ban.
Israeli officials have said they are committed to preserving the delicate balance of access to the plaza and noted that the site was kept open for prayer by thousands of Ramadan worshipers despite the troubles.
Last year, clashes around the mosque and surrounding neighborhoods during Ramadan — among police, Palestinians and right-wing Israeli activists — escalated into an 11-day air assault between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip.
In the past week, at least five rockets have been fired toward Israel from Gaza, leading to retaliatory airstrikes. There were no reports of injuries. Officials from both sides have indicated to outside mediators that they are not seeking a recurrence of the all-out battle in 2021 that devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, killing more than 250 people there and 13 in Israel.
Israeli officials closed the main crossing between Gaza and Israel on Sunday to pressure Hamas to rein in militant activity. The move prevents some 12,000 Gazans with Israeli work permits from reaching their jobs and cuts their pay in the week before Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
The suspension interrupts a months-long ramping up of economic ties that both sides say are important to calming tensions. Hamas officials condemned the move as “collective punishment,” according to Palestinian media outlets.
But Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday the closure would continue until officials were confident the rockets would stop. While officials say the attacks may be the work of smaller militant groups, they hold Hamas responsible for quelling the action.
“Israel is the strongest country in the area,” Gantz said, according to Israeli media reports. “We will continue to show civilian and economic largesse only if security stability is maintained.”
Armed exchanges across the Lebanese border also flared during last year’s Gaza battle. There had been a stretch of relative calm in the north since August 2021, when a barrage of Hezbollah rockets targeted the Golan Heights.
Monday’s launch appeared to be a minor one. The projectile was detected, the Israeli military said, but did not trigger air raid sirens. “We’re looking into the possibility that this wasn’t Hezbollah rocket fire and that this was an isolated incident by a rogue actor,” an Israeli official told Walla News.