Black day in Israel-Lebanon stand-off
Israeli air strikes on Lebanon killed 57 civilians and a Hezbollah fighter on Wednesday, the deadliest toll of the eight-day-old war, as thousands of villagers fled north and more foreigners were evacuated.
Hezbollah rockets killed two children in the northern city of Nazareth, medics said. More Hezbollah rockets fell on the city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant.
Israeli troops crossed the border to raid Hezbollah posts and the Israeli army said two of its soldiers were killed and nine injured in fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas.
Despite international concerns, 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 cost at least 293 lives in Lebanon and 29 in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the bombardment would last “as long as necessary” to free two soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas on July 12 and ensure the Shi’ite Muslim group is disarmed.
Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to swap the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discussed the need for a ceasefire in a telephone call with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, state media said. The United States has accused Syria of doing too little to bring stability to the region.
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 40 other civilians were killed in air strikes that hammered other parts of south and east Lebanon, security sources said. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
Israel also bombed the runway at Beirut International airport, which has been closed since last Thursday. The runway and fuel tanks have been hit several times.
Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Israel was trying to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, not just to defeat Hezbollah. “Are they turning it into a second Iraq?” he asked.
Three Indian workers were also killed in an air strike on a glass factory in the eastern Bekaa Valley, medical sources said.
Israeli planes also bombed a base of the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the Bekaa, the PFLP said. The guerrilla group gave no word on casualties.
The conflict has forced about 100Â 000 Lebanese to flee their homes. Displaced families packed into pick-up trucks and cars, many flying white flags, and drove from border areas towards 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 1Â 100 American evacuees left Lebanon by sea and air bound for Cyprus on Wednesday, the largest group of US citizens to have been rescued from the country in a single day.
France said about 8Â 000 of its 17Â 000 citizens resident in Lebanon had asked to be evacuated. A ferry that can carry 1Â 200 was due to pick up people later in the day after taking 900 foreigners, most of them French, to Cyprus two days earlier.
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.
Tanks pushed into Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp on Wednesday, killing four gunmen and two civilians and wounding 52 people, including 10 children. Five Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinian gunmen in a raid on a security compound in the occupied West Bank town of Nablus, where bulldozers also demolished two buildings used by the Hamas-led government.
United Nations envoys will suggest deploying Lebanese troops in the south and enlarging an international force there to try to end the fighting, Western diplomats in Jerusalem said.—Reuters