- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

BOURJ AL-MULOUK, Lebanon — Hezbollah fired its heaviest and deepest volley of rockets into Israel yesterday as Israel retaliated with 8,000 soldiers on the ground and heavy bombing.

In eastern Lebanon, villagers wept as heavy machinery carried off the bodies of those killed in an overnight commando raid against a Hezbollah stronghold. Across northern Israel, forests and fields lay scorched from Hezbollah rocket fire that killed a Massachusetts native fleeing on his bicycle after a warning siren sounded.

Hope for a cease-fire dimmed despite a plea from Pope Benedict XVI for a swift solution. U.N. diplomats debated a draft resolution that would lay down the conditions for an international force to go in; the diplomats said they were making progress but acknowledged no deal is near.

The prospect of a longer war raised tensions across the Middle East. Arab leaders have warned repeatedly that for their part the fighting has hampered or killed hope for a long-term peace.

Israeli warplanes resumed the bombardment of suspected Hezbollah positions in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, carrying out three strikes overnight, Lebanese police said today.

Israel had called a 48-hour partial halt to air attacks after a raid on the Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday killed 56 civilians, most of them women and children. The lull expired early yesterday.

The Israeli military’s inquiry on the Qana bombing admits a mistake, but it charges that Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as human shields for their rocket attacks, a statement early today said.

In a statement summarizing the inquiry findings, the military said Israel did not know there were civilians in the building.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country would stop its offensive only after a robust international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon — something likely to take weeks at minimum.

Israeli military officials said Hezbollah was putting up resistance to their ground push, in which troops are going from village to village in southern Lebanon to clear them of guerrillas.

But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they are confident of achieving their objective of penetrating roughly four miles into Lebanon by today.

They said they could easily have dashed inland to the Litani River — their final objective about 18 miles from the border — but instead chose to move methodically so as not to leave pockets of resistance. The Israeli forces were thought to be just two miles inside the Lebanese border in most spots. Hezbollah’s retaliation was fierce — both on the ground and in the air. It fired a record daily number of more than 230 rockets into Israel, pushing its three-week total over the 2,000 mark.

One hit near the town of Beit Shean, about 42 miles beyond the border — Hezbollah’s deepest rocket strike into Israel so far. Another stray missile hit the West Bank for the first time.

An Israeli-American man was killed as he fled for home by bicycle near a northern town, bringing the Israeli toll since the war began three weeks ago to 36 soldiers as well as 19 civilians. Fifty-eight persons were wounded by rockets across Israel yesterday.

In Lebanon, the civilian death toll has been considerably higher: 548 Lebanese have been killed since the fighting began, including 477 civilians, 25 Lebanese soldiers and 46 Hezbollah terrorists.

The health minister said the toll could be as high as 750, including those still buried in rubble or missing.

On the diplomatic front, the United Nations announced it would again postpone a meeting of nations that could contribute troops to help stabilize south Lebanon. The U.N. said it is premature to talk about deploying peacekeepers before imposing a plan for peace between Israel and Hezbollah.

The U.N. World Food Program said in Geneva that Israel had agreed to permit two oil tankers to sail into Lebanon to ease a growing fuel crisis. Many gas stations have long lines or are shuttered, and aid officials fear fuel shortages could also hurt food production.

In the war against the Palestinian radical movement Hamas, Israeli tanks and troops moved back into southern Gaza early today, closing off the entrance to a main town, residents and the military said. Three armed Palestinians were killed in air strikes, the latest stage of Israel’s monthlong offensive.

Residents and Palestinian security officials said about 50 tanks, accompanied by bulldozers, crossed one mile into Gaza, taking up positions in a village outside the town of Rafah and at the Gaza airport, which has been out of commission for several years.

The Israeli forces advanced about five miles into Gaza, taking control of the main highway and blocking the eastern entrance of Rafah, a town on the Gaza-Egypt border, residents said. It was the farthest the Israelis have advanced in the area since the start of their offensive in late June.


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