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Hezbollah fires most rockets yet in war after Israel kills a top commander

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JERUSALEM/BEIRUT -

Hezbollah fired the most rockets it has launched at Israel in a single day since cross-border hostilities broke out eight months ago, as part of its retaliation on Wednesday for an Israeli strike which killed a senior Hezbollah field commander.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have been trading fire since the eruption of the Gaza war in October, in steadily intensifying hostilities that have fueled concern of a bigger confrontation between the heavily armed adversaries.

The Israeli strike in the south Lebanon village of Jouaiyya late on Tuesday killed three Hezbollah fighters alongside the senior field commander Taleb Abdallah, also known as Abu Taleb, Israel and three security sources in Lebanon said.

He was the most senior Hezbollah commander killed during eight months of hostilities, one of the sources said.

The Israeli military confirmed that it had killed him as well as the three other Hezbollah fighters in a strike on a command and control center.

The sources in Lebanon said he was Hezbollah's commander for the central region of the southern border strip.

Hezbollah said it carried out at least 17 operations against Israel on Wednesday, including eight in response to what it called the "assassination" by Israel in Jouaiyya.

In one, Hezbollah fighters fired guided missiles at an Israeli military factory. In another, the group said it had attacked Israeli military headquarters in Ein Zeitim and Ami'ad, and an Israeli military air surveillance station in Meron.

A security source said the group fired some 250 rockets at Israel throughout Wednesday, the most in a day in this conflict so far. More than 100 rockets were launched at once, one of the group's biggest barrages since the hostilities began in October.

Speaking at a funeral procession for Abdallah in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said the group would increase the intensity, force and quantity of its operations against Israel in retaliation for his killing.

"If the enemy is screaming and moaning about what happened to it in northern Palestine, let him prepare himself to cry and wail," Safieddine said.

Sounding sirens

Sirens sounded in northern Israel.

Israeli jets hit a number of launch sites in southern Lebanon on Wednesday after projectiles were fired towards northern Israel, the military said.

The Israeli military earlier said Hezbollah had fired a barrage of around 50 launches from southern Lebanon into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In a second announcement, Israel said approximately 90 projectiles were identified crossing from Lebanon, a number of which were intercepted while others fell in several locations in northern Israel, causing fires in a number of areas.

It was not clear if the Israeli statements were referring to two separate launches.

The Israeli military said it fighter jets hit Hezbollah launch sites in two areas in southern Lebanon, while artillery shelled a third location.

It said there had been no casualties on the Israeli side but firefighters were battling fires started by the Hezbollah strikes in various areas.

Abdallah, the Hezbollah commander killed on Tuesday, was senior to Wissam Tawil, a high-level Hezbollah commander killed in an Israeli strike in January, said the sources in Lebanon, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas called Abdallah a great leader, in a statement offering condolences for his death.

The security sources said the four Hezbollah members were likely targeted during a meeting.

Israeli strikes have killed some 300 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon - more than it lost in 2006, when the sides last fought a major war, according to a Reuters tally which puts the number of civilians killed at around 80. Attacks from Lebanon have killed 18 Israeli soldiers and 10 civilians, Israel says.

The Israeli military says it has killed more than 320 Hezbollah members, including at least 100 targeted after field operatives gathered "precise high-quality intelligence" on them.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry in Beirut, James Mackenzie in Jerusalem, Tala Ramadan, Nadine Awadallah, Clauda Tanios and Enas Alashray in Dubai; Writing by Maya Gebeily and Tom Perry; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Toby Chopra and Alex Richardson)

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