KARNEI SHOMRON, West Bank (JTA) — Katyusha rockets were fired on northern Israel from Lebanon, sparking fears that the conflict with Hamas would open on a second front, but Israeli and Lebanese officials downplayed the incident.
Also Thursday, as Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip entered its 13th day, an army officer was killed just hours before Israel suspended fighting for another humanitarian pause. A second soldier was killed in Gaza later in the day.
During a tour of the troops in the South on Thursday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel still had military options left in the Gaza Strip and could continue to step up its operations in order to stop Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
“The decision about how we make sure that the quiet in the South remains is still before us, and the Israel Defense Forces has still not been asked to carry out everything that is necessary to achieve this,” Olmert said.
One of at least three Katyusha rockets fired on the northern border community of Nahariya Thursday morning crashed through the roof of an old-age home. The rocket landed in the kitchen of the home as 25 residents were eating in the dining hall next door. Two elderly Israelis were injured.
There has been no claim of responsibility in the attacks, but speculation is rife. An IDF spokesman was quoted by the Ynet Israeli news site as saying the attacks were carried out by Palestinian factions in Lebanon that want to force Israel into war. Some 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon.
Israel retaliated by shelling the area from where the Katyushas were fired.
The Israeli army dismissed the rockets as “a minor event,” The New York Times reported. Hezbollah, the terrorist organization with whom Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006, has denied any connection with the attack, according to Lebanese information minister Tarek Mitri.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the attack on Israel and Israel’s response.
Schools in Nahariya and surrounding communities have been canceled and the Home Front command has ordered northern communities to open their bomb shelters.
The missiles reportedly were fired from the same southern Lebanon town where last month the Lebanese army found eight Katyusha rockets set on timers to be fired at Israel. The rockets were defused.
In central Gaza, an army officer was killed and another soldier wounded by anti-tank fire in the former Netzarim settlement as their company was entering a building. The dead soldier was identified as Maj. Roi Rosner, 27, of Holon. The IDF announced Thursday night that a second soldier, St.-Sgt. Amit Robinson, was killed by sniper fire during an operation in the northern Gaza Strip.
Eight Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel began its ground operation in the Gaza Strip and nine since the operation began on Dec. 27. Three Israeli civilians also have been killed in rocket attacks from Gaza.
Shortly after Rosner’s death was announced to the public, Israel halted attacks for three hours in the early afternoon to enable Palestinian civilians in Gaza to leave their homes and for international relief organizations to carry out their humanitarian missions. It was the second straight day that Israel took a “humanitarian pause” from fighting Hamas gunmen in Gaza.
During the break in fighting, some 300 Gazans with dual citizenship were permitted to leave the strip via the Erez crossing and were taken to Jordan across the Allenby Bridge, while a pool of foreign journalists reportedly was allowed to enter. In addition, 100 trucks of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza and 132,000 gallons of diesel fuel for the Gaza power station was to be transferred through the Nahal Oz fuel depot.
More than 23 rockets were fired at southern Israel on Thursday. A long-range Grad missile landed in an Ashkelon elementary school, destroying its gym. Schools have been closed since the start of the operation.
Overnight, the Israeli Air Force attacked about 60 Hamas targets, including the houses of Yaser Natat, who was in charge of the rocket firing program in the Rafah area, and Muhammad Sanuar, the commander of the Hamas Khan Yunis Brigade. It also targeted a mosque used as a weapons storage facility, smuggling and terror tunnels — some located under homes — rocket launching areas and underground launching pads.
Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau, arrived in Cairo Thursday to discuss an Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal. Pressure from around the world for a cease-fire plan has grown since Israel struck a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday, killing 40 and injuring dozens.
While the IDF continues to assert that it was fired upon from either inside or from the vicinity of the school, officials from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has insisted on international news networks that no Hamas terrorists were inside the school.
The driver of a U.N. truck was killed by an Israeli tank as he approached an Israeli border crossing to pick up an aid shipment. A U.N. spokesman told The Associated Press Thursday that the United Nations would suspend aid shipments until it was sure its staff would be safe.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday night failed to agree on a cease-fire resolution and was scheduled to meet again Thursday. Arab representatives continue to insist upon a cease-fire with no preconditions, while countries such as the United States, Britain and France want assurances that a mechanism to stop arms smuggling from Egypt will be put into place.
Demonstrations in support of Israel’s Gaza operation have begun to crop up in Europe and the United States.
Rallies were held Wednesday night and dozens more were scheduled in cities across the United States for Thursday night and Friday in communities such as Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
In Europe, more than 1,000 people demonstrated Wednesday evening near the Israeli Embassy in London to show their support for Israel’s attack against Hamas. A few dozen Muslim counter-demonstrators, who took part in the earlier daily anti-Israel demonstration, refused to leave the area; a large number of police officers separated the two groups. Six of the anti-Israel demonstrators were arrested.
Also Wednesday night, a Brussels pro-peace demonstration organized by the Coordinating Council of Jewish Communities in Belgium drew nearly 700 people, according to police estimates.
Anti-Israel sentiment, however, on the Gaza operation has been exhibited throughout the world.
In South Africa, thousands of protesters marched Thursday on the Parliament in Cape Town. Slamming Israel and praising Hamas, participants, who were acting under the banner of the Muslim Judicial Council, chanted slogans such as “Long live Hamas” and “Down with Israel”, according to local radio station Cape Talk.
Jewish women in Toronto on Wednesday staged a sit-in inside the Israeli consulate after gaining access by proving they were Jewish or Israeli.
Germany has been the site of two weeks of anti-Israel protests, which drew thousands of people to the streets in cities throughout the country.
Protests have entered the athletic arena, as well.
Anti-Israel protesters in New Zealand tried to force the withdrawal of Israel’s top tennis player from a tournament. A fringe organization called Peace and Justice Auckland issued a letter to Shahar Pe’er demanding her withdrawal on the eve of the tournament. On Thursday, about 20 protesters waved anti-Israel placards outside the entrance to the ASC Classic in Auckland before Pe’er was due to play Russia’s Elena Dementieva.
Pe’er, 22, who received beefed-up security during the tournament, lost in the quarterfinal round.
The protest against Pe’er came two days after an Israeli basketball team was targeted by protesters in Turkey, forcing the players to leave the court before the opening tip of a European Cup match.
Some Turkish fans of the Turk Telekom team threw bottles at the Israeli Bnei Hasharon players. Others stormed the court shouting “Allah Akbar” and “death to the Jews,” according to reports.
The team retreated to the locker room and remained holed up for two hours before leaving under heavy police escort. The game was canceled.