More rockets from Lebanon hit Israel amid Gaza fighting

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The Independent Online

Rockets fired from Lebanon struck Israel today for the second time in a week while its Gaza offensive ground on, but there was no immediate sign the incident would escalate into wider violence.

There was no initial claim of responsibility for the attack, which triggered warning sirens in parts of northern Israel, and police said no one was hurt.

On Thursday, a similar salvo hit northern Israel but Lebanese and Israeli officials were quick to play down that incident, blaming not the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, an ally of Gaza's Hamas, but smaller, Palestinian groups in Lebanon. Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006.

"Three rockets fired into Israel landed outside the city of Kiryat Shmona," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about Wednesday's incident in the Galilee.

Security sources in Lebanon said five rockets were fired and two fell in Lebanon. Witnesses in south Lebanon said Israel responded with artillery fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties or further Israeli military action.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo at the start of a major diplomatic push to end the war in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has been battling Hamas Islamists for 19 days in a bid to end their rocket fire on its towns.

Israeli troops edged closer to the heart of the city of Gaza on Wednesday morning and international organisations expressed growing concern about the plight of children trapped there.

The Palestinian death toll rose to 971, Gaza's Health Ministry said, counting some 400 women and children among those killed. Israel says 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians hit by Hamas rockets fired across the border have been killed.

Sporadic explosions, machine gun fire and the wail of ambulances pierced the night after Israel's senior general said more work lay ahead for his troops in their stated mission of stopping the Hamas rocket attacks.

Israeli aircraft attacked about 60 targets, including Hamas police headquarters in the city of Gaza, eight squads of gunmen, five rocket-launching sites and some 35 weapons smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, the military said.

Three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel, causing no casualties, emergency services said.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the densely populated Palestinian enclave on Tuesday and said what he saw was shocking.

"It is unacceptable to see so many wounded people. Their lives must be spared and the security of those who care for them guaranteed." ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said.

He urged both sides to spare civilians and let aid workers do their work.

The chief UN aid official for Gaza appealed to the international community to protect Gaza's civilians, saying nowhere in the territory of 1.5 million people was safe any longer with the conflict becoming "a test of our humanity".

Trying to end the bloodshed, Ban planned to meet leaders in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria. He has indicated he will have no direct contact with Hamas.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said Ban also would "demand that urgent humanitarian assistance be provided without restriction to those in need".

In Cairo, a Hamas delegation resumed talks on a ceasefire plan proposed by Egypt, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel and has made peace with the Jewish state.

Hamas says Israel must pull back all its troops under a ceasefire and end the blockade of the Gaza Strip that it tightened after the group seized the coastal enclave from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

Israel has rebuffed as "unworkable" a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution last week and said a truce must ensure Hamas cannot rearm through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israeli tanks have moved closer to the densely populated downtown area of the city of Gaza, but have not entered, residents said.

Human rights groups have reported shortages of vital supplies, including water, in the Gaza Strip. A fuel shortage has brought frequent power blackouts.

Israel has permitted almost daily truck shipments of food and medicine. But Human Rights Watch said Israel's daily three hour break in attacks to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid to Gazans was "woefully insufficient".