GAZA CITY: Israeli troops battled Palestinian gunmen on Wednesday in Gaza, where more than 1,000 people have now been killed in the war on Gaza, and rockets slammed into northern Israel from Lebanon for the second time in less than a week.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo at the start of a regional tour aimed at stopping the unacceptable violence that has sparked outrage across the world. Egypt has been spearheading efforts for a truce in the war, now in its 20th day, in which another 4,500 Palestinians have been wounded.
At least three Palestinians were killed across the Gaza Strip overnight as Israel pounded the territory with more than 60 air and naval strikes and ground troops clashed with fighters in the streets of cities, the army said.
Israeli warplanes blasted Gaza s southern border with Egypt with some three dozen bombing raids, sending panicked residents fleeing, witnesses said.
No rocket or mortar fire was reported being fired from Gaza by mid-morning, the army said.
But rockets fired from Lebanon slammed into northern Israel early on Wednesday for a second time in less than a week, raising the specter that the scenario of 2006 – when Israel carried out an offensive in Gaza and Lebanon at the same time – could be repeated.
The Lebanese government denounced the firing of rockets, saying the incident undermined national unity and gave Israel an excuse to attack the country.
Whoever is behind this attack is targeting the national consensus and all parties represented within the government, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri told reporters after discussing the situation with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora.
The incident comes less than a week after a similar attack that lightly wounded two Israelis and sowed panic on both sides of the tense border where memories are still fresh of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, which broke out amid Israel s last major offensive in Gaza.
Hezbollah denied any involvement in last week s strike, but analysts have told AFP in Lebanon that the Shia militia likely gave it tacit approval.
UN chief Ban arrived in Cairo on the first stop of his tour that will take him to Jordan, Israel, the West Bank city of Ramallah, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Kuwait, where he was to attend an Arab League summit next Monday.
Ban has repeatedly appealed for an end to the fighting around Gaza, which he has slammed as unacceptable. But both the Jewish state and the Islamist Hamas have ignored a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.
My message is simple, direct and to the point: the fighting must stop, Ban said in his first press conference of the year. Too many people have died. There has been too much civilian suffering.
Egypt, which brokered a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas last June, has been spearheading efforts to end the present fighting.
A Hamas delegation is currently in Cairo for talks on a Western-backed proposal drawn up by President Hosni Mubarak. This calls for an immediate halt to the violence, talks on opening crossings into the Gaza Strip and securing Gaza borders and a restart to Palestinian reconciliation talks.
Israel has for months maintained a tight stranglehold on the territory which is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, letting in only limited supplies of humanitarian aid since Hamas seized total control of the Strip in June 2007 following the collapse of a unity government.
A senior source in Cairo indicated Egypt was getting increasingly frustrated at Hamas s response so far to its initiative, saying they need to say yes , now, to our plan.
A top Hamas leader, Mussa Abu Marzuk, acknowledged the movement had substantial observations about the initiative but said there was still a chance they would accept it.
Amos Gilad, Israel s pointman for the Gaza truce talks and a senior aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, was due to arrive in Cairo on Thursday for his second visit in a week.
Since Israel unleashed Operation Cast Lead on Hamas on December 27, at least 979 Palestinians have been killed, including 292 children, and more than 4,500 people wounded, according to Gaza medics.
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or by rocket attacks during the same time. Gaza fighters have launched some 700 rockets and mortar into Israel since the start of the offensive, according to the army.
The offensive – Israel s deadliest ever against Gaza – has sparked withering criticism and protests and concern about a humanitarian crisis breaking out in the densely populated territory where half of the population is under 18 years of age.
Hillary Clinton, due to become US secretary of state in a week s time, said Barack Obama s administration would make every effort to forge peace but ruled out talks with Hamas until it recognised Israel s right to exist.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and with Mubarak, pressing them for the specific measures necessary to deliver a full and sustainable ceasefire in line with last week s UN Security Council Resolution.
Aid agencies have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis because the vast majority of the 1.5 million population depends on foreign aid.