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Hezbollah Fires Rockets at Israel      06/12 06:02

   Lebanon's Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel 
on Wednesday to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating 
regional tensions as the fate of an internationally-backed plan for a 
cease-fire in Gaza hung in the balance.

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Lebanon's Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into 
northern Israel on Wednesday to avenge the killing of a top commander, further 
escalating regional tensions as the fate of an internationally-backed plan for 
a cease-fire in Gaza hung in the balance.

   The retaliatory attack came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in 
the region to push a cease-fire proposal with global support that has not been 
fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. The militant group submitted its first 
official response late Tuesday, requesting "amendments" to the deal.

   Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly 
every day since the 8-month-long Israel-Hamas war began and says it will only 
stop if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more 
devastating regional conflagration.

   Air raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said that 
about 160 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the 
largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of 
casualties as some were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.

   REVENGE FOR SLAIN COMMANDER

   Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in 
retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah 
as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting 
began eight months ago. The Israeli strike destroyed a house where Abdullah and 
three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the 
border, late Tuesday.

   A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge 
of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the 
Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in 
recent days, causing fires in the area.

   The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on 
condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took 
part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of 
southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.

   Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them 
Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and 
non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been 
killed since the war in Gaza began.

   Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and 
Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, U.S. and 
other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In 
April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.

   U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has said the best way to calm 
regional tensions is for Hamas to accept a proposal for a phased cease-fire 
that it says would end of the war in Gaza and bring about the release of the 
remaining hostages abducted in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war. The 
U.N. Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.

   Biden says it is an Israeli proposal, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 
has sent conflicting signals, saying Israel remains committed to destroying 
Hamas. It's unclear how it would do that if the U.S.-backed proposal, which 
includes an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, is fully implemented.

   HAMAS ASKS FOR 'AMENDMENTS'

   Hamas has expressed support for the broad outline of the deal but wariness 
over whether Israel would implement its terms.

   Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the 
"amendments" requested by the group include guarantees of a permanent 
cease-fire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

   Hamas's official reply to the proposal, which it conveyed to mediators on 
Tuesday, appeared to be short of outright acceptance but kept negotiations 
alive. Qatar and Egypt, which have been key mediators alongside the United 
States, said they were studying it.

   Blinken, who is on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the 
war, headed to Qatar on Wednesday to follow up on the negotiations.

   The proposal has raised hopes of ending a conflict in which Israel's 
bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, 
according to Palestinian health officials, and driven some 80% of the 
population of 2.3 million from their homes. Israeli restrictions and ongoing 
fighting have hindered efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the isolated 
coastal enclave, fueling widespread hunger.

   Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into 
Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 
around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong 
cease-fire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas 
is still holding around 120 hostages, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

   The proposal announced by Biden calls for a three-phase plan that would 
begin with a six-week cease-fire and the release of some hostages in exchange 
for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas 
and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

   Phase one also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance "at 
scale throughout the Gaza Strip," which Biden said would lead to 600 trucks of 
aid entering Gaza every day.

   At the same time, negotiations would be launched over the second phase, 
which is to bring "a permanent end to hostilities, in exchange for the release 
of all other hostages still in Gaza, and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces 
from Gaza."

   Phase three would launch "a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza 
and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza to their 
families."

   The militant group accepted a similar proposal last month that was rejected 
by Israel.

   Netanyahu's far-right coalition allies have rejected the latest proposal and 
have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas 
intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring 
the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, 
have demonstrated in favor of the U.S.-backed plan.

 
 
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