By Rami Ayyub
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli jets struck what its military said were rocket launch sites in Lebanon early on Thursday in response to two rockets fired towards Israel from Lebanese territory, in an escalation of cross-border hostilities amid heightened friction with Iran.
The rockets launched from Lebanon on Wednesday struck open areas in northern Israel, causing brush fires along the hilly frontier. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came from an area of south Lebanon under the sway of Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.
Israel responded with several rounds of artillery fire on Wednesday before launching air strikes early on Thursday, the military said.
"(Military) fighter jets struck the launch sites and infrastructure used for terror in Lebanon from which the rockets were launched," the military said in a statement, adding that it also struck an area that had seen rocket launches in the past.
While Hezbollah's al-Manar TV has reported on the Israeli action, the group itself was yet to issue any statement.
Shortly after the strikes, al-Manar TV said that Israeli warplanes had carried out two raids on the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Mahmudiya, about 12 km (7.5 miles) from the Israeli border. There were no reports of casualties.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Israel's air strikes were the first targeting Lebanese villages since 2006 and showed an escalation in its "aggressive intent".
Aoun also said in a tweet the strikes were a direct threat to the security and stability of southern Lebanon and violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Speaking to Israel's YNet TV, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: "This was an attack meant to send a message ... Clearly we could do much more, and we hope we won't arrive at that."
Gantz said he believed a Palestinian faction had launched the rockets. Small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past.
The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah, which has advanced rockets. Israeli aircraft struck Hezbollah posts in the border area last summer. Israel says its aircraft last struck inside Lebanon in 2014, though al-Manar TV reported https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-lebanon-blast-idAFKBN0P109L20150621 one such strike in 2015.
This week's cross-border fire came after a suspected drone attack last Thursday on a tanker off the coast of Oman that Israel, the United States and Britain blamed on Iran. Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed. Iran has denied any involvement.
The United States and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to the attack. Israel says it is keeping the option open of acting alone if necessary.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Alaa Swilam and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alexandra Hudson, Andrew Cawthorne)