Hamas Launches First Phosphorus Rocket at Negev; No Injuries Reported

Palestinian militants fired a phosphorus rocket at Israel for the first time yesterday, one of 17 fired into Israel as fighting entered its 19th day. The phosphorus rocket exploded in an open field in the western Negev. No injuries or damage were reported.

Also yesterday, three rockets were fired at Israel from southern Lebanon, the second time in a week the north has come under attack. No injuries were reported.

In Gaza operations, seven Israel Defense Forces soldiers were wounded yesterday, one of them seriously, as Palestinian militants fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli paratroopers just outside Gaza City.

Five IDF paratroopers were wounded during a separate gunbattle in northern Gaza. Two officers were moderately wounded and an officer and two soldiers were lightly wounded in the incident, which began when they were fired upon by gunmen.

The soldiers returned fire and hit the assailants. The wounded were given first aid on the spot, and were later taken for treatment to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

Among those injured was Lt. Col. Avi Blot, commander of the 101st Battalion in the Paratrooper Brigade.

White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon and armies are allowed to make use of it in munitions, mostly to create smoke screens to hide troop movements as well as bright bursts in the air to illuminate battlefields at night.

However, the substance can cause serious burns if it touches the skin and can spark fires on the ground.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel Sunday of firing phosphorus artillery shells over populated areas of Gaza during recent fighting, including a crowded refugee camp, putting civilians at risk.

Israel maintains that it uses munitions in accordance with international law.

The Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon at northern Israel yesterday reignited fears of a second front opening during Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

The IDF responded soon after, firing a number of artillery shells at the source of fire near the village of Kfar Hamam in southern Lebanon. Lebanese security officials said a total of eight shells were fired.

Israel Police initially said that the rockets had struck fields near Kiryat Shmona, but after combing the area concluded that two of the three rockets had actually exploded inside Lebanon. Residents in northern Israel took refuge in bomb shelters and there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Hours after the initial morning exchange, three more Grad rockets that were set to be fired were discovered and dismantled by Lebanese troops, Lebanese security officials said.

Israeli helicopter gunships flew reconnaissance missions along the border as Lebanese troops and UN peacekeepers sent out patrols, Lebanese officials said.

A similar incident occurred last Thursday, when at least two Katyusha rockets fired from south Lebanon exploded in northern Israel. Two people in Nahariya were lightly wounded in the attack, and a number of others suffered from shock.

Israeli officials have expressed concern that militants in Lebanon could try to open a second front in the Gaza campaign in solidarity with Hamas.

Earlier yesterday, paratroopers killed a Palestinian suicide bomber who attempted to detonate his explosives belt near them.

The paratroopers discovered the terrorist while searching a site in the northern section of Gaza City. When the bomber attempted to approach them, the soldiers opened fire, apparently hitting his explosives belt and detonating it. The soldiers escaped the incident unharmed.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Tuesday that Hamas militants have been dressing up as Israeli soldiers in an effort to carry out suicide bombings.

Blot, the injured officer, became the second battalion commander to be wounded in fighting during Operation Cast Lead. Early in the ground offensive, Lt. Col. Oren Cohen, commander of Battalion 13 in the Golani Brigade, was injured in a friendly fire incident. Also injured in that incident was brigade commander, Colonel Avi Peled.

The number of officers injured or killed in the operation denotes the presence of senior staff officers deep in the battlefield, contrasting strongly with criticism that was directed at the IDF command during the Second Lebanon War that officers opted to conduct the war behind "plasma screens."

The air force, meanwhile, hit about 60 targets in the Hamas-ruled territory overnight. These included a Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, five rocket-launching sites, including a squad of mortar gunners and an area rigged with explosive devices intended for detonation against IDF forces, the army said.

The IAF also attacked eight squads of gunmen, some in coordination with ground forces, according to the army. The army deployed infantry, tanks, combat engineers, artillery, and intelligence units in its operations throughout the Gaza Strip Wednesday, with the assistance of the Israel Air Force and the Israeli Navy.

For the first time yesterday, the navy said that it had deployed naval commandos against Hamas targets.