Jul 19, 2006 — By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israeli air strikes on Lebanon killed 63 civilians and a Hizbollah fighter on Wednesday, the deadliest toll of the eight-day-old war, as thousands of villagers fled north and more foreigners were evacuated.
Hizbollah rockets killed two children in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, medics said. More Hizbollah rockets fell on the city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant.
Israeli aircraft bombed a bunker in southern Beirut where the army said it suspected senior Hizbollah members were holed up. The NRG Maariv news Web site quoted a senior military source as saying information obtained by security forces had shown Hizbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was there.
Hizbollah denied any of its leaders or personnel were killed in the raid and said it targeted a mosque under construction in the area of Burj al-Barajneh in the southern suburbs.
Israeli troops also crossed the border to raid Hizbollah posts and the Israeli army said two of its soldiers were killed and nine injured in fighting with Hizbollah guerrillas.
Despite international concern, there was no sign Israel or its Lebanese Shi’ite foes were ready to heed the Beirut government’s pleas for an immediate halt to a war that has killed at least 299 people in Lebanon and 29 in Israel.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said more than 500,000 people had been displaced and appealed for international help.
“I call on you to respond immediately and without reservation to our call for a ceasefire and to provide urgent international humanitarian aid,” he said in a televised address.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the bombardment would last “as long as necessary” to free two soldiers captured by Hizbollah on July 12 and ensure its militants are disarmed.
Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to swap the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli jails.
At least 17 Lebanese, including several children, were killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli air strike that destroyed houses in the southern village of Srifa, residents said.
“There was a massacre in Srifa,” the village’s mayor, Afif Najdi, told Reuters. Rescuers were still looking for bodies.
At least 46 other civilians were killed in air strikes that hammered other parts of south and east Lebanon, security sources said. Hizbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
Israel also bombed the runway at Beirut international airport, which has been closed since Thursday. The runway and fuel tanks have been hit several times.
POSSIBLE WAR CRIMES
United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour said the scale and predictability of the killing in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories could involve war crimes.
Indiscriminate shelling of cities and the bombing of sites where civilians would inevitably suffer were unacceptable, and those in command could bear criminal responsibility, Arbour said without pointing a specific finger of blame.
Many villagers in southern Lebanon said food, water and medical supplies were dwindling after roads and bridges were cut in the south, restricting movement of aid.
Displaced families packed into pick-up trucks and cars, many flying white flags, drove from border areas toward Sidon, the main city in the south, to try to escape the violence.
Panicked foreigners flooded out of the country.
“It’s very bad, very sad, I can’t believe what’s happening,” said a tearful Lubna Jaber, an Australian who had come to visit relatives in Lebanon. She was waiting in central Beirut with about 350 compatriots to board buses and then a ferry to Turkey.
About 1,100 American evacuees left Lebanon by sea and air bound for Cyprus on Wednesday, the largest group of U.S. citizens to have been rescued from the country in a single day.
France said about 8,000 of its 17,000 citizens resident in Lebanon had asked to be evacuated. Germany sent at least 500 citizens by bus to Syria.
Israel’s offensive in Lebanon has coincided with a three-week-old push into the Gaza Strip to retrieve another soldier, seized by Palestinian militants on June 25.
Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinians in clashes in Gaza — five militants and five civilians — and another five were killed in the occupied West Bank.
About 60 Palestinians, including 10 children, were also wounded in the clashes in densely populated central Gaza on Wednesday, medics said.
(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki, Alaa Shahine, Laila Bassam, Alistair Lyon and Lin Noueihed in Beirut, Jerusalem bureau, Michele Kambas in Limassol, Yara Bayoumy in Dubai)
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