Israeli air raids kill 40 civilians in Lebanon


  • World
  • Friday, 04 Aug 2006

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli air strikes killed at least 40 civilians in Lebanon and a Hizbollah rocket barrage into Israel killed three people on Friday as world powers tried to agree on a resolution to halt the fighting. 

One air strike hit a farm near Qaa, close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley where workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, were loading plums and peaches on to trucks, local officials said. They said 33 people were killed and 20 wounded. 

Lebanese civilians inspect the damaged Madfoun bridge after it was hit by Israeli war planes, north of Beirut, August 4, 2006. (REUTERS/Elias Diab)

An Israeli army spokesman said air strikes in the area had targeted two buildings that military intelligence had showed were used by Hizbollah to store weapons. 

But television footage showed bodies of what appeared to be farm workers lined up near the ruins of a small structure in fruit groves. Strewn nearby were fruit baskets. 

It was the second deadliest strike in Lebanon, after an air raid killed up to 54 civilians in the village of Qana on Sunday. 

The United States and France worked on a U.N. resolution calling for an end to the fighting. Once they reach agreement, which officials said could happen over the weekend, a U.N. Security Council vote could be held within 24 hours. 

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, after several hours of talks on Friday with France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said progress had been made but a text was being sent back to Washington and Paris for review. 

BRIDGES BOMBED 

Another air strike on a house in the frontline Taibeh village in south Lebanon on Friday killed seven civilians and wounded 10, a security source said. The source said the civilians had sheltered in the house during fierce battles. 

Israeli aircraft destroyed four bridges on the main coastal highway north of Beirut, disrupting efforts to aid civilians displaced or trapped by the conflict in Lebanon. 

Fighting raged in the south as Israeli troops tried to expand seven small border enclaves they control. 

Hizbollah guerrillas fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel, killing three people and wounding several, medics said. Rockets killed eight Israelis on Thursday. 

Hizbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers with an anti-tank missile near Markaba, Israel's army said. Al Arabiya television said five Israeli soldiers had been killed. Israeli media said seven Hizbollah guerrillas also died in the battle. 

The bombing of bridges in the Christian heartlands north of Beirut cut off the coastal highway to Syria, which the United Nations called its "umbilical cord" for aid to Lebanon. 

The bridge at Maameltein, north of Beirut, was split by a huge crater which partially engulfed a crushed minivan. Further north, another bridge lay in the valley it once spanned. 

"The whole road is gone," said Astrid van Genderen Stort of the U.N. refugee agency. "It's really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country." 

Israel said it had destroyed the bridges to prevent Syria from rearming Hizbollah, which is also backed by Iran. 

The European Commission said Israeli bombing of routes north of Beirut had made it harder to deliver humanitarian aid. 

"We will need guarantees for the safety of our people on the ground if we are to successfully continue the provision of aid," said European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel. 

The U.N. World Food Programme called off planned convoys to the southern port city of Tyre after air raids on a Beirut suburb prevented drivers from reaching the assembly point. 

AIR STRIKES 

More than 150 Israeli air strikes hit south Lebanon and artillery pummelled border areas as Hizbollah tried to stop new Israeli incursions near Markaba and the coastal town of Naqoura. 

Hizbollah said its fighters had destroyed eight Israeli tanks and an armoured troop carrier in fighting around the southern villages of Markaba, Aita al-Shaab and Taibeh. 

Israel has put more than 10,000 troops into Lebanon and says it has carved out a zone containing 20 villages up to seven km from its border. The defence minister has ordered the army to prepare for a possible push further north. 

At least 720 people in Lebanon and 74 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, ignited by a cross-border raid in which Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12. 

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch will visit Beirut on Saturday for talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on ways to end the war, Lebanese political sources said. 

Once a U.N. resolution is agreed to halt the fighting, a second resolution is envisaged a week or two later setting down conditions for a permanent ceasefire and authorising an international force more robust than the U.N. peacekeepers already in south Lebanon. 

Israel has launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip to recover another captured soldier and stop Palestinian rockets. Its forces killed three Palestinians in the Strip on Friday amid air strikes on militant targets that also wounded four people. 

At least 164 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since Israel's Gaza offensive began on June 28. 

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Geneva, Baghdad and United Nations bureaux) 

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