Lebanon death toll passes 230
Tuesday 18 July 2006, 18:07 Makka Time, 15:07 GMT
At least 29 people have been killed in the latest air strikes by Israeli warplanes in Lebanon, raising the toll there to more than 230. Israeli aircraft struck targets across Lebanon on Tuesday, hitting many areas north and east of Beirut that have so far been quiet.Nine civilians, all from one family and including children, were killed and four wounded in an air strike that destroyed a house in the south Lebanese village of Aitarun. Four others died in strikes elsewhere in the south.Another strike at a Lebanese army barracks at Jumhur area, east of Beirut, killed 11 Lebanese soldiers and wounded 30.Aljazeera television reported that Israeli forces had also attacked targets around Zahle, a mainly Christian town in central Lebanon, and attacked ambulances on nearby roads.
A truck carrying medical supplies donated by the United Arab Emirates was hit on the Beirut-Damascus highway and its driver was killed, the Lebanese health ministry said.
Hezbollah also announced that one of its fighters was killed in fighting with Israeli forces near the border.
Diplomatic efforts have brought no signs of an end to the week-old assault that began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers.
Israel’s military action in Lebanon has so far killed at least 230 people, all but 26 of them civilians, and inflicted the heaviest destruction in the country for two decades, with attacks on ports, roads, bridges, factories and petrol stations.
The Israeli prime minister told United Nations envoys in Israel trying to broker a ceasefire that its offensive would continue until Hezbollah releases its two soldiers and rocket attacks end.
“Israel will continue the battle against Hezbollah and will continue to strike targets belonging to the group until it obtains the release of its captured soldiers and restores the security of Israeli citizens,” Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying in a statement following talks with the UN team.
Earlier, Israel’s deputy army chief, Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, told Army Radio: “The fighting in Lebanon will end within a few weeks. We will not take months.
“We need more time to complete our very clear goals. When we fight terror it is a war that needs to be very accurate, very schematic and it takes time.
“Hezbollah has a very large system of different types of rockets. The [group] still has an ability to fire at the north and residents still feel this. We will do everything to shorten this suffering.”
He added that a ground invasion into Lebanon had been considered.
“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. We are not ruling it out,” Kaplinsky said.
Israeli aircraft also struck Beirut’s southern suburbs, the northern city of Tripoli as well as two Lebanese army barracks in the Jumhur and Kafarshima areas early on Tuesday.
Television footage showed balls of fire and clouds of smoke billowing from a Lebanese army position east of Beirut. Eleven soldiers were killed and thirty were wounded, a security source said.
Lebanon’s army has so far tried to remain on the sidelines of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
Loud explosions caused by other raids on Beirut’s southern suburb were also heard across the capital.
Previous strikes on the area had destroyed Hezbollah’s headquarters.
Raids on the Christian coastal town of Byblos north of Beirut damaged two trucks without inflicting casualties, police said.
Warplanes also hit the eastern town of Baalbek.
Aljazeera’s correspondent reported that there was relative calm in south Lebanon on Tuesday morning after the overnight air raids and artillery shelling.
One Israeli was killed, and several others wounded, in the town of Nahariya, as Hezbollah continued to hit northern Israel with rocket attacks on Tuesday afternoon.
Rockets also hit the northern city of Haifa, where air raid sirens sounded throughout the day, and the towns of Safed, Acre and Kiryat Shemona.
Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli forces and the firing of hundreds of rockets at northern Israel have killed 25 people so far, 13 of them civilians.
A senior Israeli officer has said that the rocket attacks had begun to ease off, but that the army needed perhaps three to four weeks to destroy the Hezbollah’s military stockpiles.
“We have hit a large part of their weapons arsenal, their anti-aircraft missiles and their rockets,” Udi Adam, head of Israel’s northern command, told Channel 1 Television.
A Hezbollah spokesman dismissed the claim, describing it as part of Israel’s psychological warfare against the group.
Fighting erupted after Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance group, backed by Syria and Iran and part of Lebanon’s government, seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on northern Israel on July 12.
Lebanon’s government has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire, but world powers have said any solution must include the release of the two soldiers, which Hezbollah wants to swap for prisoners in Israeli jails.
Kaplinsky said the two missing soldiers, along with a third, who was captured by Palestinian fighters on June 25, were thought to be alive and safe.
“We know that all three are alive. We know who is holding them and, as I said, we will do everything to bring them home,” he said.
By Aljazeera + Agencies