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JERUSALEM (AP) — Militants in Lebanon fired at least three rockets into Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with a bloody offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 700 people. Israel responded with mortar shells.
The rockets raised the specter of renewed hostilities on Israel’s northern frontier, just 2 years after Israel battled the Hezbollah guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. War broke out between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 as Israel battled Palestinian militants in Gaza, on Israel’s southern borders.
No group claimed responsibility. Lebanon’s government condemned the attack, and Hezbollah — which now plays an integral role in Lebanon’s government — denied any responsibility for the rocket fire, which lightly injured two Israelis.
For a second straight day, Israel said it suspended is Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies. Shortly before the pause took effect, however, the U.N. said one of its aid trucks came under Israeli fire, killing the driver.
U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said the U.N. coordinated the delivery with Israel, and the vehicle was marked with a U.N. flag and insignia when it was shot in northern Gaza. The Israeli army said it was investigating.
The allegation was sure to raise tensions with the United Nations, which has already demanded an investigation into Israel’s shelling of a U.N. school in Gaza that killed nearly 40 people. At the time, Israel said it opened fire after militants hiding in the crowd shot mortar shells at Israeli troops.
In new Gaza violence, Israel killed at least 11 people, including three who were fleeing their homes, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to 699 Palestinians, according to Palestinian medical officials. Eleven Israelis have died since the offensive began Dec. 27.
The offensive is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but with roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.
One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.
“The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen,” said Henry Carmelli, the home’s manager.
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, to the south. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.
“We are following what is happening in the north. We are prepared and will respond as necessary,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel’s retaliatory fire. The attacks are “the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon,” Saniora said.
Hezbollah has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war and Lebanese Labor Minister Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah representative in the Cabinet, told The Associated Press the militant group was not aware of the rockets targeting Israel.
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