The Israeli military has struck targets in the Gaza Strip, pushing the region towards a wider conflagration after a day of rocket fire along the country’s northern and southern borders following two days of unrest at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.
Gaza militants quickly fired off a new barrage of rockets, setting off air raid sirens across southern Israel.
The Israeli air strikes set off at least four loud explosions in Gaza.
The Israeli military said it struck a pair of tunnels and two weapons manufacturing sites.
It was the latest sign of rising tensions during a sensitive holiday period.
Similar fighting in 2021 led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
The air strikes came after militants in Lebanon fired a heavy barrage of rockets at Israel earlier in the day, forcing people across Israel’s northern frontier into bomb shelters, wounding at least two people.
In Gaza, militants also fired rockets towards Israel.
Israeli military officials said the rocket fire on both fronts was carried out by Palestinian militants in connection with this week’s violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, where Israeli police stormed into the building with tear gas and stun grenades on two straight days.
The violent scenes from the mosque have ratcheted up tensions across the region.
The air strikes came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his Security Cabinet to discuss the rocket fire.
“Israel’s response, tonight and beyond, will extract a heavy price from our enemies,” Mr Netanyahu said.
There was no immediate Israeli response in Lebanon, where militants fired some 34 rockets across the border.
The military said 25 were shot down by its Iron Dome aerial defence system.
Five rockets struck Israeli territory and the rest of the strikes were being investigated.
Israel said two people were wounded.
The unusually large salvo of rockets raised fears of a wider conflagration, as Israel’s bitter enemy, the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, holds sway over much of southern Lebanon.
Over the past two days, tensions have skyrocketed at the sacred compound home to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and along Israel’s tense border with Gaza.
“It’s a Palestinian-oriented event,” he said, adding that either the Hamas or Islamic Jihad militant groups, which are based in Gaza but also operate in Lebanon, could be involved.
But he said the army believed that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government were aware of what happened and also held responsibility.
He declined to say how Israel might respond, saying there were “all sorts of scenarios”.
Earlier on Thursday and late on Wednesday night, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired several rockets towards Israel in protest over the Israeli police storming into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City with tear gas and stun grenades.
On Thursday, Hezbollah condemned Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa.
The shrine – the third-holiest site in Islam – stands on a hilltop revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
No faction in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the salvo of rockets, which set off air raid sirens across the country’s north.
The official said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side.
A spokesperson for Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment.
Both Israel and Hezbollah have avoided an all-out conflict since a 34-day war in 2006 ended with a draw.
Tensions have simmered along the Lebanese border as Israel appears to have ratcheted up its shadow war against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, another close ally of Iran, Israel’s archenemy in the region.
Suspected Israeli air strikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers and temporarily put the country’s two largest airports out of service.
Lt Col Hecht said Thursday’s rocket fire was not believed to be connected to events in Syria.
In Washington, Principal Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said: “Israel has legitimate security concerns and has every right to defend themselves.”
But he also urged calm in Jerusalem.
In Israel, Thursday’s rocket fire from Lebanon sent shrapnel flying that wounded at least two people, according to the Galilee Medical Centre.
Israeli police said a bomb squad removed a number of fragments from areas in the north.
Videos on social media showed huge plumes of dark smoke billowing from Israel’s northern hills and streaks through the sky left by the Iron Dome defence system.
Widely circulated photos showed shrapnel that punched a hole in a street in the northern Israeli town of Shlomi and at least one building with its windows blown out.
The Lebanese army said it found missile launchers and “a number of rockets intended for launch” in the vicinity of the towns of Zibqin and Qalila in south Lebanon and was working to dismantle them.
The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad hailed the rockets as “a heroic operation against the Israeli crimes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
The leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is visiting Lebanon, where he met with exiled leaders of Palestinian militant groups late on Thursday.
“Our Palestinian people will not remain passive towards the ongoing aggression,” he said.
Conflicting claims over the sacred compound home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque have spiralled into violence in the past, including a bloody 11-day war in 2021 between Israel and Hamas.
For the past two nights – a volatile time during which the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover overlap – Palestinians have barricaded themselves in the mosque with stones and firecrackers.
Worshippers have been demanding the right to pray overnight inside the mosque – which authorities typically only permit during the last 10 days of the month-long holiday.
They have also stayed in the mosque in protest over threats by religious Jews to carry out a ritual animal slaughter at the sacred site for Passover.
Israel bars ritual slaughter on the site, but calls by Jewish extremists to revive the practice, including offers of cash rewards to anyone who even attempts to bring an animal into the compound, have amplified fears among Muslims that Israel is plotting to take over the site.
Early on Wednesday, Israeli police raided the mosque, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets to evict worshippers who had locked the doors of the building.
Palestinians hurled stones and fireworks at officers.
After a few hours of scuffles that left a trail of damage, police managed to drag everyone out of the compound.
Police fiercely beat Palestinians and arrested more than 400 people.
Israeli authorities control access to the area but the compound is administered by Islamic and Jordanian officials.
The violence at the site has resonated across the region, with condemnations pouring in from Muslim leaders.