Army retaliates after rocket fire from Lebanon
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Between three and five rockets were fired on northern Israel from Lebanon early on Thursday, slightly wounding two people, the Israeli army said. The attack prompted a swift Israeli response of five artillery shells.
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The Israeli army fired on Lebanon after three to five rockets launched from southern Lebanon hit northern Israel on Thursday morning, allegedly wounding two people.A military spokesman told AFP that Israel aimed "a pinpoint response at the source of fire." An Israeli security source said Israel had fired five artillery shells.
It is the first sign that the conflict could spread further into the region since Israel launched an offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on December 27th. Israel says the assault aims at preventing Hamas militants from firing rockets into southern Israeli cities like Asderot.
“It could be an important turning point in Israel’s military and political activity,” says Lucas Menget, FRANCE 24 correspondent at the Gaza border. “If we were coming closer to a ceasefire in Gaza, this could mean potentially mean that another war could start on the northern front.”
The Israeli offensive has so far killed 702 Palestinians and wounded more than 3,100, Gaza medics say. According to U.N. officials, at least a quarter of the Palestinian dead were civilians. Ten Israelis have died in the past 13 days, seven of them soldiers, including four killed by "friendly" fire.
Conflict risks spreading to Lebanon
It was not immediately clear who from Hezbollah or the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon fired the rockets that landed in the Israeli resort town of Nahariya and three other locations.
At first, all eyes were on the Hezbollah. But the Iran-backed ‘Party of God’ denied any responsibility in the rocket fire. Hezbollah made it clear to the Lebanese government, in which it has a representative, that it was not involved in Thursday's rocket attack into northern Israel, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri told AFP.
“Some Palestinian websites are pointing the finger at the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP –GC),” says Lanah Kammourieh, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Beirut. It’s an offshoot of the PFLP that operates in Palestine. “But these are still all suspicions yet.”
Some 400,000 Palestinian refugees currently live in Lebanon.
Palestinians fired rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel in June 2007, causing no casualties. During a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in 2006, the Jewish state came under frequent rocket attacks that caused casualties.
The 2006 war, which lasted 34 days, killed 1200 Lebanese and 160 Israeli. The UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon is on high alert and has called for maximum restraint to avoid the escalation of hostilities.
Overnight offensive, one of the heaviest since war began
Israel resumed its operations in southern Gaza early on Thursday after a brief pause on Wednesday to let Gaza residents stock up on food and other supplies.
“[Wednesday night] was one of the most intense bombing attacks since the war began,” FRANCE 24’s Menget said.
Dozens of tanks, supported by several helicopters, entered Gaza at the Kisufim border crossing at around 11 pm GMT on Wednesday and were headed toward the city of Khan Yunis, witnesses told AFP.
Israeli warplanes hit a house and a suspected tunnel in an open area near the Egyptian border, witnesses said. Israel claims that Hamas is supplied with weapons through the myriad of tunnels running from Egypt through the border into Gaza.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon, Israeli planes dropped tens of thousands of leaflets on the Rafah area, warning people to leave their houses or face air strikes.
Diplomatic efforts continue
Although Israel pressed on with the offensive, it said it accepted the "principles" of a European-Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The United States urged Israel to study the plan.
"We believe a ceasefire is necessary," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday.
Senior Defence Ministry aide Amos Gilad left for Cairo on Thursday to get details on the ceasefire plan.
Hamas said it was looking at the Egyptian plan, which addresses Israel's demand that the militant group be prevented from rearming through smuggling tunnels from Egypt. The proposal also addresses Hamas's call for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.
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