Rocket Attack Jolts Israel As Gaza War Blazes On
Posted January 8, 2009on:
GAZA CITY: Rockets fired into northern Israel from Lebanon on Thursday sparked a new military alert as Israeli jets carried out mass strikes on smuggling tunnels in Gaza.
While 250 foreigners were able to leave the war-stricken territory, efforts to end the fighting which has killed more than 700 people crawled forward with Israel sending an envoy to Cairo for talks on an Egyptian truce plan.
The Israeli army went on alert after three rockets hit the northern Israeli town of Nahariya and injured two women. Israeli artillery fired back into Lebanon.
The UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon sent reinforcements to the zone where the rockets came from and local people quickly started to flee, fearing a new war front.
Hamas denied it had fired the rockets and the Lebanese government said Hezbollah, the Shiite Lebanese militants who were the target of an Israeli war in 2006, had indicated they were not involved.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said, “We are following events in the north, we are alert and will know how to respond.”
But media cited military sources as saying the rockets were probably fired by Palestinian radicals angered by the offensive in the Gaza Strip now in its 13th day.
Israeli jets pounded zones near the Gaza border with Egypt where Israel says there are hundreds of underground tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle in arms. The 60 air raids reported was one of the highest daily totals of the war.
Israeli planes dropped tens of thousands of leaflets on the Rafah area near the border warning people to leave their houses or face attacks.
Witnesses said Israeli tanks had also advanced in southern Gaza.
There were also new air raids in the north of the densely populated coastal strip, with three people hurt when a Gaza City mosque was hit, medics said.
Amid the raids, about 250 foreigners were escorted to the Israeli border in a Red Cross convoy. Several attempts to get them out of Gaza have had to be cancelled because of fighting.
Romanians, Canadians, Swedes, Filipinos, Austrians and Norwegians were among those guided out. “It was risky,” said Palestinian-Canadian Marwan Diad. “Nowhere is safe in Gaza.”
Diplomats said up to 400 foreigners could still be in Gaza, where medics said at least 708 people have now been killed and more than 3,100 injured since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27.
Seven Israeli soldiers have been killed in the combat while three civilians and a soldier have been killed by rockets fired into Israel since December 27.
Israel says it wants to stop Hamas rocket attacks across the border and the arms smuggling.
More rockets were fired into Israel on Thursday from Gaza and two people were seriously injured when one hit a building in the Negev Desert, the military said.
Despite the attacks, the Israeli army ordered a new three-hour halt to bombing throughout the territory from 1100 GMT until 1400 GMT so the population can get food and supplies.
Peace hopes now rest on a truce plan proposed by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.
A top Israeli envoy went to Cairo for talks on the plan which aims to halt the conflict while bolstering security on the Gaza-Egypt frontier to end the smuggling.
Amos Gilad, an adviser to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, was to hold talks with Egyptian officials.
But Palestinian groups based in Syria said the Egyptian plan “has no valid basis”.
“Palestinian organisations, notably Hamas, see no valid basis in the Egyptian plan for a solution to the crisis” in Gaza, Khaled Abdel-Majid, spokesman for Palestinian groups based in Damascus, said in a statement.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres said ceasefire plan was “a general idea” with the details to be hammered out. The process “could take several days,” he told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Western foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, extended their stay at the United Nations in New York to hold new talks with Arab counterparts on a compromise Security Council text on a Gaza truce.
“We believe there’s still work to do,” Rice told reporters.
Libya has submitted a draft resolution that “demands an immediate end” to the Israeli offensive.
A rival non-binding statement circulated by France, which chairs the UN Security Council this month, would merely stress “the urgent need for an immediate and durable ceasefire” and would welcome Egypt’s truce initiative.
New protests against the Israeli offensive were held around the world.
Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian man as he tried to set fire to a petrol station at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, police said.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the centre of Damascus to protest against Israel. Hundreds of students stormed a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the Indonesian city of Palu in an anti-US protest.
Sevilla’s Malian international footballer Frederic Kanoute displayed a T-shirt marked “Palestine” after his side scored a 2-1 Spanish Cup win over Deportivo Coruna.
Channel News Asia