Israel returns fire after missile from Lebanon

Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire that broke out after a rocket hit a gas station in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod Friday

TEL AVIV—The Israel Defense Forces said a rocket fired from Lebanon landed near the northern town of Metula on Friday morning and Israel returned fire.

It wasn’t clear who shot the rocket from Lebanon, the IDF said. The Lebanese government said it arrested a suspect in the firing of the missile but gave few details. Israel’s north has been on edge amid fears that militant groups in Lebanon might join those in Gaza attacking Israel.

The incident comes as the conflict between Israel and Hamas stretched into another day Friday and the Palestinian death toll rose.

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Also on Friday, In the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, a rocket from Gaza landed on a gas station, injuring a 50-year-old man whose hand had to be amputated, according to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The newspaper published pictures of fire and billowing smoke rising from the gas station.

In Tel Aviv, rocket sirens sounded on Friday morning. The IDF said three rockets were launched from Gaza toward central Israel and were intercepted by Israel’s defense system, known as the Iron Dome, a missile interceptor system that has proved effective in shooting down rockets, preventing Israeli casualties.

The IDF has responded to Gaza rocket fire with an air and sea assault. Overnight, the death toll rose to 98 Palestinians killed, with 670 injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The airstrikes included a house in the border city of Rafah where five people were killed, and 15 injured, according to local Palestinian reports. One witness reached Friday morning described an airstrike on a residential skyscraper in Gaza City that destroyed the apartment of a doctor, killing him.

Israel has mobilized 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza.

A ball of fire is seen following an Israeli air strike on Friday in Rafah, in the southern of Gaza Strip

President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday and offered U.S. help to halt the hostilities. U.S. officials said they hoped to work with Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Egypt to achieve this end.

“We will certainly be involved to the extent that there is any effort to pursue a cease fire or de-escalation,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on Thursday.

“Our first principle is Israel has a right to defend itself,” Mr. Rhodes said.

“We also want to find a way to assure calm and to de-escalate with the bottom line being that Hamas cannot continue its rocket fire,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council met in New York on Thursday to discuss the fighting, but there were no public mediation efforts under way.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of an all-out escalation. “Once again, Palestinians are caught in between Hamas’s irresponsibility and Israel’s tough response,” he said.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, told the council that some on the panel had criticized Israel for “finally responding to these provocations” of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.

“They have accused us of reacting disproportionately,” Mr. Prosor said. “Asking Israel to show restraint while our cities are under constant attack is like asking the fire brigade to battle an inferno with nothing more than buckets of water.”

So far, the international community hasn’t pressured Israel to step back from the operation. But in past conflicts, international pressure on Israel increased when large numbers of civilians were killed or when Israel launched ground invasions.

“Inadvertently killing a large number of Palestinian citizens would bring upon Israel the wrath of the international community, and even those who are quietly cheering us would have to pressure us to end the operation,“ said Yossi Alpher, a former intelligence officer with the Mossad and a peace adviser to the prime minister.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the U.N., called on the Security Council to step in.

“It must act to protect the civilian lives, de-escalate the current crisis, and salvage the prospects for peace and security in our troubled region,” he said.

Both sides signaled Thursday that they were poised for a protracted battle. Israeli officials have hinted a higher-stakes ground invasion may be in the offing if rocket fire doesn’t end.