Several people injured after shell explodes near UN observers in southern Lebanon

Four people have been wounded after a shell exploded near a UN patrol in southern Lebanon, the UN peacekeeping mission has said.

Earlier, Reuters reported an Israeli strike had hit a car carrying UN observers outside the border town of Rmeish, citing two security sources.

But the Israeli military said "contrary to the reports" it did not strike a UNIFIL vehicle in the area.

UNIFIL - the UN peacekeeper mission in southern Lebanon - said three military observers and one Lebanese translator on foot patrol along the Blue Line, which divides the border between Lebanon and Israel, were injured in an explosion near their location.

It said they had been evacuated for medical treatment and it was investigating the origin of the explosion.

"Safety and security of UN personnel must be granted," UNIFIL said. "All actors have a responsibility under international humanitarian law to ensure protection to non-combatants, including peacekeepers, journalists, medical personnel, and civilians.

"We repeat our call for all actors to cease the current heavy exchanges of fire before more people are unnecessarily hurt."

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has spoken with UNIFIL commander Aroldo Lozaro and condemned the "targeting" and wounding of UN staff, according to a statement from his office.

One of the observers was a Norwegian citizen who was slightly injured, the country's defence ministry told Reuters.

Lebanon's National News Agency said the other two wounded observers were Chilean and Australian.

Israel has exchanged regular fire with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas in October.

Israel's shelling of Lebanon has killed nearly 270 Hezbollah fighters - as well as around 50 civilians including children, medics and journalists - and has hit both UNIFIL and the Lebanese army.

In November, UNIFIL said one of its patrols was hit by Israeli gunfire in southern Lebanon. No casualties were reported.

A series of Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon killed 16 people on Wednesday, while a barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah killed one Israeli man, making it the deadliest day in more than five months of fighting along the border.

A day later, UNIFIL said it was "very concerned over the surge of violence occurring across the Blue Line right now".

"This escalation has caused a high number of civilian deaths and the destruction of homes and livelihoods," it added.

"It is imperative that this escalation ceases immediately. We urge all sides to put down their weapons and begin the process toward a sustainable political and diplomatic solution."

Concerns have grown about further escalation between Israel and Hezbollah, with tens of thousands of people on both sides displaced by the violence.