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Israel launches strikes in Lebanon and Gaza after barrage of rockets fired across border

Jerusalem(CNN) Tensions continued to simmer after Israel struck Palestinian militant targets in southern Lebanon and Gaza on Friday, raising the specter of a wider regional escalation in the wake of police raids on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The 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 on Friday afternoon when two Israeli sisters — aged 16 and 20 — were killed and their mother was seriously wounded in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military says it was on high alert, calling up an unspecified number of reservists amid what it described as “very volatile times.”

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, international spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (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.

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.

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.

The aftermath of Israeli airstrikes on Salah al-Din Road in Gaza on April 6.

Smoke and fire rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City early Friday.

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.

An Israeli police bomb disposal unit member inspects the remains of a shell fired from Lebanon and intercepted by Israel in the northern town of Fassuta on Thursday.

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.

Ibrahim Dahman and Ghazi Balkiz contributed to this report.

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