Separate attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv killed three people on Friday after Israel struck Palestinian militant targets in southern Lebanon and Gaza, concluding three days of rising tensions in the region following police raids on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
The Israeli strikes came hours after dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory, an attack the Israeli military blamed on Palestinian militants. The barrage from Lebanon was the largest since a 2006 war between the two countries.
Violence continued to spiral Friday when two sisters, aged 16 and 20, with dual British-Israeli citizenship, were killed and their mother was seriously wounded in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank.
Later in the evening, a group of tourists was hit by a vehicle during an attack in Tel Aviv, described by Israeli authorities as a “terror attack.” An Italian man was killed and seven people were wounded, including three British tourists and an Italian citizen. Of the seven injured, three were still in hospital as of Saturday morning local time, according to the Ichilov Medical Center. The four others had been released.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “instructed the Israel Police to mobilize all border police units in reserve and the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to mobilize additional forces in face of terrorist attacks,” according to his office.
The Israeli military said it was on high alert, calling up an unspecified number of reservists amid what it described as “very volatile times.”
The US said it “strongly condemns (the) terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv.”
“The three horrific attacks today, in which three were killed and at least eight others wounded, affected citizens of Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom. The targeting of innocent civilians of any nationality is unconscionable,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement issued Friday.
“The United States stands with the government and people of Israel. We are in close contact with our Israeli partners and reaffirm our enduring commitment to their security.”
Following the attack in Tel Aviv, the leader of the United Arab List and Palestinian-Israeli Knesset member Mansour Abbas rejected any “use of violence against any citizen.”
“Especially in these difficult times, it’s important for me to emphasize, as I have many times in the past. Regarding the attack in Tel Aviv, this is not the way of the Arab community and the Arab citizens in Israel,” Abbas said on Twitter on Saturday.
“The Arab leadership headed by Ra’am and the Islamic Movement will not accept in any way the use of violence against any citizen regardless of religion, race or nationality,” Abbas added.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, international spokesperson for the IDF, said that it was dealing with a “convergence of frontiers” in the region. “An event started off in Jerusalem got expanded to Gaza, Hamas and into Lebanon,” he told CNN.
In Lebanon, Israeli airstrikes hit an open area near the southern coastal city of Tyre. The Israeli military believes Palestinian factions launched dozens of rockets from that city. Israel has blamed Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, for the rocket launches.
“The IDF will not allow the Hamas terrorist organization to operate from within Lebanon and holds the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory,” the IDF said in a statement.
Some regional countries have reportedly intervened to de-escalate tensions. A Qatari official told CNN that the gas-rich Gulf country was mediating to “deescalate the situation on all sides.”
“Qatar’s primary goal is to prevent unnecessary bloodshed and avoid destructive consequences for Palestinians and civilian populations,” the official said.
It is unclear which of the warring parties Qatari officials have been communicating with. Qatar does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel.
The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, which holds sway over south Lebanon, has neither denied nor claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the powerful Iran-backed armed group warned that “hundreds of millions of Muslims” were prepared to “shed blood” in response to the Israeli police raids on al-Aqsa. In recent months, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that violations at the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city would cause “all hell to break loose in the region.”
Israel has not blamed Hezbollah for the attack. On Friday afternoon, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told CNN that the government had “no information” on whether Hezbollah greenlit the strikes.
“We know we have a very tough and difficult situation in south Lebanon. Hezbollah is there and they are armed. The Lebanese army and UNIFL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) are also there and working with others in order to stop such things, but they are not always successful,” Bou Habib said.
The foreign minister said that the ministry understands the attack “had its reasons…but we don’t like it coming from Lebanon.”
“What happened in Aqsa is the reason for what happened in Lebanon yesterday. I’m not justifying it … I’m explaining that what happened in al-Aqsa is very important and really there is a reaction,” Bou Habib added.
Lebanon said it would submit an official complaint to the UN Security Council, calling Israel’s strikes a “flagrant violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.” Hamas also condemned the strikes in a statement Friday, and expressed “solidarity with the Lebanese people.” In a separate statement, it condemned Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said Israeli strikes damaged a children’s hospital, causing distress to the young patients inside. “This is not the first time that health facilities have been targeted, and it is unacceptable,” the ministry added in a statement.
Hecht said the Israeli strikes targeted 10 sites in Gaza, including production sites and research and development sites as well as tunnel infrastructure. In earlier statements, the IDF said it hit several Hamas weapons manufacturing sites, an underground weapons complex, and “terror” tunnels in Beit Hanoun and Khan Yunis.
Anger over police raids on mosque
The exchange of fire comes as anger boils across the region over Israeli police raids at the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem on Wednesday, which drew widespread condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world and sparked retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
Then on Thursday, the IDF said some 34 rockets were launched into Israel from Lebanon. Videos posted on social media showed rockets from Lebanon streaking through the skies over northern Israel, and the sounds of explosions in the distance. Israel closed its northern airspace in the wake of the barrage.
Footage from inside the mosque on Wednesday showed Israeli officers beating people with their batons and rifle-butts, then arresting hundreds of Palestinians. Israeli police said they entered the mosque after “hundreds of rioters” tried to barricade themselves inside.
Hecht, the IDF international spokesman, linked the rocket fire to the two Israeli incursions into the al-Aqsa mosque, saying they had created “very negative energies.”
“The context of the story starts two days ago on Temple Mount with these very, very harsh pictures coming out of the prayer at night,” Hecht said, using the Jewish name for the Jerusalem holy site, which is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
The foreign minister for Jordan, the custodian of the al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, said “we are at a very dangerous moment.”
“What we see unfolding on the Lebanese border is obviously a consequence, a reaction to what we saw happening in al-Aqsa (mosque),” Ayman Safadi told CNN on Thursday.
Lebanon and Israel are considered enemy states, but a truce between them has largely held since the 2006 conflict. On Friday, the UN’s peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said its head of mission and force commander was speaking with authorities on both sides, and that both Israel and Lebanon have said “they do not want a war.”
There have been several small-scale rocket attacks from Lebanon in recent years that have prompted retaliatory strikes from Israel. Few casualties were reported in those incidents, with the largest death toll in an exchange of fire in 2015 that left two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper dead. Palestinian factions in Lebanon were believed to be behind those rocket attacks.
Amir Tal, Ibrahim Dahman and Ghazi Balkiz contributed to this report.