Israeli jets attacked a Palestinian militant group’s training base near Beirut on Wednesday, slightly wounding two guerrillas, hours after an Israeli border town was hit by rocket fire.
The strike against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command was Israel’s deepest inside Lebanon since June 2004.
Lebanese witnesses reported hearing explosions as warplanes roared over the guerrilla base of the Syrian-backed group, which has been waging a decades-long fight against the Jewish state.
The Israeli army said the attack was in response to rocket fire at the northern Israel town of Kiryat Shmona on Tuesday night. It said it views such attacks with “extreme severity” and holds Lebanon responsible.
The PFLP-GC commander in Lebanon, Anwar Raja, denied the group was responsible for the attack.
Israel warns Lebanese government
But the top general for northern Israel, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, vowed to retaliate against future rocket attacks from Lebanon and did not rule out targeting installations in Syria.
“The main message that we passed and we are trying to give is that the Lebanese government must take responsibility for what happens in its territory,” said Adam, head of the army’s northern command, which oversees the tense Israel-Lebanon border.
“If Kiryat Shmona residents don’t sleep quietly, then the residents of Beirut won’t sleep quietly. This is an unequivocal message,” Adam told The Associated Press.
Asked whether Israel would also bomb Syrian targets as it has done in the past when rockets have been fired by Damascus-backed groups, Adam replied: “I won’t answer that ... We reserve the right to retaliate anyway we see fit.”
Adam said Israel will not allow Katyusha rocket fire into northern Israel to become a routine part of daily life. Such rocket attacks were common before Israel ended an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.
The army said the rockets damaged some property in northern Israel but caused no injuries. Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and the mainstream Palestinian faction Fatah denied involvement in the attack.
Raja told the AP that two guerrillas were slightly wounded in the counterstrike by Israel, which caused limited material damage and shattered the windows of nearby houses. The PFLP-GC base consists of a maze of concrete fortified tunnels in a hill five miles south of Beirut.
An AP photographer at the site said the strike targeted an entrance to a tunnel, leaving it almost blocked by stones and rubble.
Israeli warplanes struck the same base in June 2004 to retaliate for a rocket attack on an Israeli naval boat.
The raid came a month after Israeli jets attacked a command post of the Hezbollah guerrilla group in southern Lebanon, responding to Hezbollah rocket and mortar attacks that wounded 11 Israeli soldiers and damaged a house in a border community.
While fighting in the area has dropped since the Israeli pullout from Lebanon, the border remains tense and Hezbollah frequently targets Israeli troops in the disputed Chebaa Farms area.
Lebanon and Syria say Chebaa Farms is Lebanese territory, but U.N. cartographers who surveyed the border after the Israeli withdrawal said it belongs to that part of Syria which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel says it will discuss control of the area only in future peace talks with Syria.
The PFLP-GC’s commander is headquartered in Syria but the group maintains military bases in Lebanon, where it is accused of taking orders from Syria in support of its policies in Lebanon.
The PFLP-GC has carried out some high-profile attacks against Israel since it was formed in 1968: It hijacked one Israeli airliner, machine-gunned another at Zurich’s airport and blew up a Tel Aviv-bound Swissair plane, killing all 47 aboard.