U.N. alarmed by Lebanon rocket attacks on Israel

AMMAN Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:13pm GMT

AMMAN (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm on Wednesday over reports of Lebanese rocket attacks against Israel and urged all parties in the region to avoid actions that could make a bad situation worse.

"That is ... a very alarming, very disturbing and troubling situation," Ban told reporters in the Jordanian capital on the first day of a week-long tour of the Middle East.

Ban said that U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, were investigating the rocket attacks launched from inside Lebanon. The incident took place on the 19th day of Israel's offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

"I again strongly urge all the parties concerned in this region ... to refrain from taking such violent actions which will destabilize the situation," Ban said.

"We are now going through a very difficult process to bring a ceasefire, to bring stability back to Gaza. Such actions are just unacceptable," Ban said.

He added that he would discuss the latest Lebanese rocket salvoes -- the second such attack from Lebanon in a week -- with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday and with Lebanese officials in Beirut later in the week.

Security sources in Lebanon said five rockets were fired, though two fell in Lebanon. Witnesses in southern Lebanon said Israel responded with artillery fire but there were no reports of casualties or further Israeli military action.

Israel fought a month-long war in 2006 against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Hezbollah has denied responsibility for last week's rocket attacks against Israel.

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Earlier Ban discussed an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and later with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman. Ban said he would continue to renew his calls for a ceasefire in Gaza in meetings with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday.

Ban did not comment on statements from a Hamas official working with Egyptian mediators in Cairo indicating that Hamas might be willing to accept some kind of a ceasefire.

The U.N. chief was asked if he was disappointed that both Israel and Hamas had ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last week that called for an immediate end to the Israeli offensive and rocket attacks against southern Israel.

"It is more than disappointment," Ban said, adding that he wanted an "an immediate and durable ceasefire."

This, he said, was a message he would bring to Israel on Thursday when he meets with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"Hamas rocket attacks must stop and at the same time I have been condemning the excessive military operation by the Israelis," he told an earlier news conference in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said 1,010 Palestinians had been killed and 4,700 wounded by Israel so far. The Israelis say on their side 10 soldiers, and three civilians hit by cross-border Hamas rockets, have been killed.

Ban also called on "all those who have influence with any parties to this conflict" to use that influence to help put an end to the fighting -- indicating an acknowledgement that his own ability to influence events was extremely limited.

The U.N. chief, whose tour will also take him to Israel and Syria, said he was unlikely to visit the Gaza Strip, partly because of the dangerous situation there.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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