Israel, Hamas Trade Blows in 4th Day of Warfare
by VOA News July 11, 2014
Fighting intensified as Israel continued its Gaza offensive for a fourth day Friday, with Palestinian militants continuing rocket attacks on the Jewish state and rocket fire coming from Lebanon for the first time.
A rocket launched from Lebanon into northern Israel early Friday drew retaliatory artillery fire from Israeli troops, raising fears of a broader regional conflict.
The rocket, launched around 6 a.m. local time, struck an open area near Metula at Israel's northernmost tip without causing casualties or damage, the AFP news agency reported. It said Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said artillery units had fired a barrage at 'suspicious positions' over the border.
Israeli troops responded by firing about 25 artillery shells on southern Lebanon, the Associated Press reported.
Military officials, speaking on Israeli public radio, said they believed the attack was carried out by a small Palestinian group aligned with Islamist Hamas militants, AFP reported.
Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which monitors the countries' border, AFP reported.
Hamas isues warning
Also Friday, Hamas warned airlines against using Tel Aviv's international airport, which has maintained flights desipite the aerial offensive launched Tuesday by Israel.
"The armed wing of the Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression, and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben-Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,'' the Islamist group's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement, Reuters reported.
The group, saying it wanted to avoid injuries to passengers, had fired at least one rocket toward the airport Friday.
The airport quieted for about 10 minutes after a siren sounded because of a general alert in the Tel Aviv area, Israel's Airports Authority spokesman told Reuters.
Intense air attacks
Israeli warplanes have launched more than 1,000 strikes since Tuesday.
The military said it hit targets belonging to the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas, including long-range rocket launchers, government facilities, smuggling tunnels and training camps.
The Israeli military said its air strikes had hit another 320 Hamas targets Thursday, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket-launching sites but also hitting homes.
Israel has reported no casualties, while Palestinian officials said Thursday the death toll in Gaza from the Israeli assault has reached at least 85 militants and civilians, including women and children.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of 'genocide' in the attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has delivered a severe blow to Hamas and other terrorist groups, and he promised the operation would inflict even more damage. The offensive will unfold in stages, the prime minister said, hinting at a possible ground operation.
Israel has deployed tanks and artillery along the Gaza border and has called up at least 20,000 reservists.
Hamas has been hitting back with rocket salvoes. On Friday, a rocket slammed into a gas station in Israel's southern port city of Ashdod near Gaza, causing a massive explosion. Three Israelis were injured, one seriously.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum vowed that the group would reach every house and military facility in Israel and force 3 million Israelis into bomb shelters.
The ongoing strife prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to phone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday to express concern and offer help in negotiating a resolution to the crisis.
'The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement,' the White House said Obama told Netanyahu, according to Reuters news agency. The president also repeated his condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself.
As Israeli warplanes relentlessly attacked hundreds of Hamas targets in Gaza Thursday, Netanyahu told a parliamentary committee that a cease-fire is 'not even on the agenda.'
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Egypt's foreign secretary to ask that the country exert its influence in defusing the situation, Reuters reported. Egypt played a critical role in mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in 2012. The U.S. government refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.
Kerry "has been reaching out to countries in the region, including Qatar, including Egypt,' State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, according to Reuters. '… Any country in the region that can play a role in bringing an end to the rocket fire from Hamas, we're certainly going to be engaged with.'
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in the Israeli conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza, but neither of the warring sides showed any hint of stopping its attacks.
The U.N. secretary-general told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that Israel and Hamas 'must exercise maximum restraint' to end the fighting.
Violence in the region has escalated since the killing of three Jewish students last month and the murder of a Palestinian teen in a suspected revenge attack.
VOA's Robert Berger contributed to this story.
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