Israeli commandos clash with guerrillas

Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos landed near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre and clashed with Hezbollah guerrillas on Saturday, Lebanese security sources said.

At least five people were killed in the night raid, which occurred as world powers edged slowly toward a deal aimed at ending the 25-day-old war in Lebanon.

Hezbollah said in a statement one Israeli soldier was killed and many were wounded in the attack. Eight Israeli naval commandos were wounded, two seriously, in the operation, the Israeli army said.

Two Israeli units landed in citrus groves at the northern entrance of Tyre and left after three hours, the security sources said. Their targets were not immediately clear.
Israeli helicopter fire hit a Lebanese army troop carrier during the raid and Lebanese troops fired anti-aircraft guns at Israeli aircraft, the security sources added.

Five Lebanese, including an army soldier, were killed in the violence, the sources said. Israeli jets also struck the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh south of Tyre overnight, wounding a civilian.

A blast echoed across Beirut at dawn and Hezbollah’s al-Manar television said an air raid had hit a southern suburb.

Four air raids hit Rashaya al-Wadi in the southern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian-Lebanese border, a security source said.

In New York, the United States and France strove to overcome their differences on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at halting the conflict in which at least 727 people in Lebanon and 74 Israelis have been killed.

Paris wants existing UN peacekeepers and Lebanon’s army to monitor a truce, while Washington wants the Israeli army to stay in southern Lebanon until an international force arrives.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has said only an expanded UN peacekeeping force to back the Lebanese army is acceptable. He was due to meet US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch in Beirut later in the day.

Edging closer

France’s UN ambassador said after talks with the US on Friday: “We’re still working on it.” US ambassador John Bolton said: “There are still some issues that we have not resolved, but I think we have come a little bit closer.”

If an agreement is reached at the weekend, a Security Council vote could be held within 24 hours, officials said.

Even if outside powers agree, getting the warring parties to accept a ceasefire may not be easy. Israel’s ambassador to the US said his country would only agree to stop fighting if Hezbollah released the two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture sparked the conflict.

Israel’s immediate goal is “the unconditional release of the two hostages ... which would constitute the end of hostilities”, ambassador Daniel Ayalon said in Washington.

Hezbollah leaders have sworn to fight as long as any Israeli soldiers remain on Lebanese soil. At least 10 000 Israeli troops are now inside Lebanon trying to dislodge Hezbollah fighters from the border and stop them firing rockets into Israel.

Several Hezbollah rockets landed in or near the Israeli city of Hadera, about 80km from the border, on Friday, the deepest they have struck so far. Three Israeli civilians were killed in rocket attacks earlier in the day. Fighting has also raged in south Lebanon as Israeli troops try to expand seven small border enclaves they control.

Hezbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers with an anti-tank missile near Markaba, Israel’s army said. It said it had killed at least 16 guerrillas in Friday’s fighting.

The same day an Israeli air raid killed 33 farm workers and wounded 20 near Qaa, in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border.

“I was picking peaches when three bombs hit. Others were having lunch and they were torn to pieces,” said Mohammad Rashed, one of the wounded. Syria’s official news agency said 17 of the dead were Syrian migrant workers, five of them women.

In its account of the raid, the Israeli army said it had attacked a building after a truck that it suspected of carrying weapons from Syria to Lebanon had left the area.

Israeli air strikes also killed five Palestinians, including two militants, in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, as troops moved closer to a refugee camp as part of an offensive against militants, medics and witnesses said.—Reuters

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