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An Israeli police bomb disposal unit member inspects the remains of a shell fired from Lebanon and intercepted by Israel in its northern town of Fassuta on April 6, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said it intercepted rocket fire from Lebanon on Thursday after clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians inside Islam’s third-holiest site drew warnings of retaliation from around the region.

Israel then struck targets in southern Lebanon, state media in Lebanon reported, without giving any details of any casualties.

Palestinian factions based in Lebanon - not Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah - were behind the rocket attacks on Thursday afternoon across the disputed border into Israel, three security sources told Reuters.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon on Thursday called for restraint after rocket fire from southern Lebanon targeted Israel.

"The current situation is extremely serious. UNIFIL urges restraint and to avoid further escalation," said the force which patrols the border area between the two countries that are technically still at war.

“A rocket was fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory and was successfully intercepted,” an army statement said as Israeli media reported a “salvo” of projectiles had been fired.

The attacks came amid heightened tensions after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque before dawn Wednesday and again in the evening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “receiving continuous updates about the security situation and will conduct an assessment with the heads of the security establishment,” his office said.

Emergency services reported a man had been lightly wounded by shrapnel and a female was injured while running to the shelter.

Warning sirens sounded in the town of Shlomi and in Moshav Betzet and the Galilee in northern Israel, the army said.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had been briefed on the details of the events on Israel’s northern border, a ministry spokesman said.

“The minister will soon conduct a situation assessment with senior officials in the defence establishment.”

Exchange of rockets

Armed police in riot gear stormed the prayer hall of Al Aqsa mosque before dawn Wednesday, aiming to dislodge “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.

The violence, during both the Jewish Passover and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, sparked an exchange of rockets and air strikes with militants in the Gaza Strip, with fears of further escalation.

Lebanon’s pro-Iranian armed movement Hezbollah warned earlier Thursday it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after the clashes.

“Hezbollah forcefully denounces the assault carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Al Aqsa mosque compound and its attacks on the faithful,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

Hezbollah, an arch foe of Israel, has close ties with the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, and with the Islamic Jihad militant group, which is also based in the coastal enclave.

The last rocket fired from Lebanon into Israel was in April 2022.

Security incidents occur from time to time in the border area between Lebanon and Israel, which is guarded by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Shiite militant group Hezbollah, considered a “terrorist” organisation by many Western governments, is the only Lebanese faction that kept its weapons after the end of the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.