Bravo! Congratulations Lebanese militants

Bravo! Congratulations Lebanese militants

JERUSALEM, Jan 8 – Lebanese militants fired at least three rockets into northern Israel early today, threatening to open a second front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with its offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza militants fired a rocket barrage into southern Israel almost simultaneously.

There were no serious injuries in either attack. But the rockets on Israel’s north raised the spectre of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate.

Hezbollah started the 2006 war as Israel was battling Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27.

Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.

Shortly after the rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military confirmed it carried out “pinpoint fire” in response without elaborating.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket barrage from Lebanon.

Israeli defence commentators said they believed Hezbollah was behind the salvo, but expected the incident to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war.

Earlier, Palestinians reported more than 20 airstrikes around Gaza City before dawn today. One person was killed and 10 wounded. Also, there were clashes between Israeli armoured forces and Hamas militants in southern Gaza.

Israel had resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday after a three-hour lull to allow in humanitarian aid, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage.

]Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to being made on the diplomatic front with the U.S. throwing its weight behind a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli defence officials said senior envoy Amos Gilad would fly to Egypt this morning.

Israeli airstrikes killed 29 Palestinians on Wednesday after leaflets were dropped warning residents to leave the area “because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons.”

The casualties brought the total Palestinian death toll during Israel’s 13-day assault to 688, according to Palestinian health officials, and drove home the complexities of finding a diplomatic solution for Israel’s Gaza invasion. Ten Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes, seeking refuge at UN schools turned into temporary shelters.

The fury of the renewed fighting made it appear each side was scrambling to get in as many hits as possible before a truce could materialise.

“I feel like the ground is shaking when we hear the shelling. People are terrified,” said Fida Kishta, a resident of the Gaza-Egypt border area where Israeli planes destroyed 16 empty houses Wednesday.

In Turkey, a Mideast diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that country would be asked to put together an international force that could help keep the peace.

And diplomats in New York worked on a UN Security Council statement backing the cease-fire initiative but failed to reach agreement on action to end the violence.

“We are very much applauding the efforts of a number of states, particularly the effort that President (Hosni) Mubarak has undertaken on behalf of Egypt,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. “We’re supporting that initiative.”

The Israeli military, which has refused to allow journalists into Gaza, permitted two TV teams to accompany soldiers on patrol for the first time. The footage showed soldiers walking through a deserted street in an unidentified location in Gaza.

The Israeli military correspondent who accompanied the soldiers said they were concerned about Hamas booby-traps. He said they were shooting through walls, throwing grenades around corners, going from house to house looking for Hamas gunmen and using bomb sniffer dogs. Buildings showed bullet and shrapnel marks. “We used a lot of fire,” said an officer in the group, Lt. Col. Ofer.

Despite the violence, a surprise announcement in Paris yesterday put a spotlight on diplomacy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had accepted the cease-fire deal, but he made no mention of Hamas, without whom no truce could work.

The Palestinian Authority controls only the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza – two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state.

Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

Later, Israeli officials made it clear Sarkozy’s statement was not exactly accurate.

For Israel to accept the proposal, “there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and … we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support,” said government spokesman Mark Regev.

]For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza – something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel’s offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded – could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush’s departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group’s ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided yesterday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire. Israeli officials also rejected Hamas’ call to open the border crossings, which Israel has largely kept closed since the group seized the territory by force in June 2007.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defence officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

Still, Israel briefly suspended its offensive Wednesday to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza, and Israeli officials said such lulls would be declared on a regular basis.

The announcement came among growing warnings by the World Bank and aid groups of a humanitarian crisis. The World Bank pointed to a severe shortage of drinking water and said the sewage system is under growing strain.

Solafa Odeh, a resident of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, said around 100 people in her community were lining up for fresh water outside a local grocery store Wednesday.

“We were only allowed half a gallon each, and I saw some people walk away with their jerry cans empty,” Odeh said.

Of the 688 Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian officials.

During Wednesday’s lull, Israel allowed in 80 trucks of supplies as well as industrial fuel for Gaza’s power plant. Medics tried to retrieve bodies in areas that had previously been too dangerous to approach.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that one of its ambulance drivers was shot by Israeli soldiers during the lull. The Israeli military said it had no knowledge of the incident.

Also yesterday, Israel released footage of suspected Hamas militants captured by Israeli troops. Israel’s chief army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, said 120 suspected militants have been captured. He also said soldiers conducting searches have uncovered many explosive devices and tunnels.

“We uncovered many tunnels for kidnapping soldiers, at least one car bomb, booby trapped dolls, tunnels – an underground city,” Benyahu said on Israel TV’s Channel 10.

The CARE aid organization said one of its workers was killed Monday in an Israeli airstrike. – AP

 

 


 

 


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