Israel pounds Lebanon, Hizbollah rockets hit Haifa


  • World
  • Tuesday, 18 Jul 2006

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes battered Lebanon on Tuesday, killing 26 people, and more Hizbollah rockets hit the Israeli city of Haifa, with no sign that diplomacy would halt the week-old conflict any time soon. 

Nine family members, including children, were killed and four wounded in an air strike on their house in the village of Aitaroun. Four people were killed in other strikes in the south. 

Three-year-old Abbas Khalil of Lebanon, who was injured during an Israeli warplane air strike, tries to catch a plastic toy from his mother's hand in Jaball Amel hospital in southern Lebanon's town of Soure July 17, 2006. (REUTERS/Nikola Solic)

A truck carrying medical supplies donated by the United Arab Emirates was hit and its driver killed on the Beirut-Damascus highway, the Health Ministry said. 

An air raid on a Lebanese army barracks in the Jamhour area east of Beirut killed 11 Lebanese soldiers, including four officers, and wounded 30. 

Hizbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group backed by Syria and Iran, said one of its fighters had been killed, but gave no details. 

Up to six rockets slammed into Haifa, Israel's third-largest city and now a favoured target for Hizbollah. No casualties were reported. A rocket salvo killed eight people in Haifa on Sunday. 

Israel's army refused to rule out a ground invasion only six years after it ended a 22-year occupation of south Lebanon. 

"At this stage we do not think we have to activate massive ground forces into Lebanon but if we have to do this, we will," Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel's deputy army chief, told Israel Radio. 

He said the offensive, launched after Hizbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on July 12, would end within weeks. Israel needed more time to complete "very clear goals", Kaplinsky added. 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a bigger, better armed and more robust international force to stabilise southern Lebanon and buy time for the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbollah guerrillas. 

Shrugging off U.S. and Israeli reluctance, Annan said he expected European troops to join the proposed force in a bid to end the fighting and prevent a wider Middle East conflagration. 

Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have urged the U.N Security Council to deploy a security force in Lebanon but Israel says it is too early to discuss it and Washington has questioned how it could stop Hizbollah from attacking Israel. 

INTERNATIONAL ACTION 

"It is urgent that the international community acts to make a difference on the ground," Annan said in Brussels, suggesting a force that would operate differently from toothless U.N. peacekeepers who have patrolled south Lebanon since 1978. 

"The force will be larger, the way I see it, much larger than the 2,000-man force we have there," Annan said. 

He was speaking after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who said some European Union member states were willing to contribute troops. 

A poll in the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily showed a vast majority of Israelis backed the Lebanon offensive. Many favoured assassinating Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. 

It showed 86 percent of Israelis believed the army's attacks on Lebanon were justified. 

Thousands of foreigners fled Lebanon, some by road to Syria, others seeking places on U.S. and European ships after Beirut's international airport was closed by Israeli bombardment. About 100,000 Lebanese have fled their homes to escape the violence. 

Israel's campaign has killed 230 people, all but 26 of them civilians, and inflicted the heaviest damage on Lebanon since the 1982 Israeli invasion to expel Palestinian guerrillas. 

Hizbollah has responded by attacking an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut, killing four sailors, and firing hundreds of rockets across the border, killing 12 Israelis. 

Israel is also pursuing an offensive in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants captured another soldier on June 25. 

Lebanon has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire, but world powers said any solution to the crisis must include the release of the two soldiers. Israel also wants Hizbollah to disarm in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions. 

The Beirut government is too weak and divided to force Hizbollah to yield to such demands. 

The Shi'ite group wants to swap the soldiers for Lebanese and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Hizbollah must free its two captives unconditionally. 

She was speaking just hours after Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Israel might at some stage have to negotiate over Lebanese prisoners held in Israel to end the crisis. 

(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Jerusalem bureau, Madeline Chambers in London and Paul Taylor in Brussels) 

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