- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

BEIRUT — Israel and Hezbollah sharply intensified fighting with a blitz of air strikes, dozens of rocket attacks and brutal ground combat yesterday, each side doing a lot of damage amid international efforts to end the fighting.

Israeli commandos battled Hezbollah guerrillas in a raid on an apartment building in the southern port city of Tyre, while warplanes blasted Hezbollah neighborhoods in southern Beirut.

The fighting across Lebanon killed at least eight Lebanese and one Israeli soldier, while a Hezbollah rocket volley killed three women in northern Israel.

The raid in Tyre was the latest Israeli commando operation deep inside Lebanese territory aimed at taking out Hezbollah strong points even as heavy fighting raged closer to the border, where Israel is trying to push back the guerrillas.

Both Israel and Hezbollah claimed victory, with Israel saying it took out a key guerrilla unit involved in firing long-range rockets into its territory — including one Friday that hit the town of Hadera about 50 miles south of the border in the deepest Hezbollah strike yet.

The commandos landed from the sea and advanced through an orchard before dawn, cutting through a barbed-wire fence to get to the apartment building where a fierce gunbattle broke out with those inside.

Later, pools of blood were seen in the orchard, through which the Israelis evacuated their wounded. A corner apartment in the building was left charred, with furniture melted by an initial explosion in the assault. The building’s stairs and pavement outside were stained with blood and littered with cartridge shells from the fighting.

At least five Lebanese — including a soldier at a nearby checkpoint — were killed in the raid, the Lebanese military and rescue workers said.

Brig. Gen. Noam Feig, Israel’s deputy navy commander, said the commandos killed four Hezbollah guerrillas inside the apartment who were directly involved in the Hadera attack.

Five more Hezbollah fighters were killed in a gunbattle on the way out, while eight Israeli soldiers were injured, including one who underwent surgery at the scene, Gen. Feig said.

A resident said he saw the commandos attack the building.

“They all had beards. I thought maybe they were Hezbollah,” 18-year-old Qassem Aad said of the Israelis.

Mr. Aad said he saw several people standing outside the building with their hands up, then the shooting erupted. “I saw a man screaming, he was shot,” he recalled.

Separately, a missile fired by an Israeli drone killed two persons riding a motorcycle near al-Bass, on the outskirts of Tyre, the Lebanese military said.

Explosions resounded in Beirut as Israeli warplanes renewed their strikes on Hezbollah strongholds in the capital’s southern suburbs. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said four persons were killed in the bombing.

Hezbollah fired at least 170 rockets into northern Israel, killing three Israeli women in a single attack in a direct hit on the house they were in, police said.

Hezbollah has fired an estimated 3,000 rockets into northern Israel since fighting broke out July 12, the Israeli army said. Israel’s military also said it had carried out at least 160 air strikes against Lebanon in the previous 36 hours.

More than three weeks of Israeli bombardments have been unable to stop the rocket attacks.

The Israeli military has stepped up its ground campaign, pushing its troops across all along the border in an attempt to force Hezbollah back.

The troops have seized positions in or near 20 towns and villages, moving about two miles into Lebanon — with the deepest foray about six miles in, according to Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel’s northern command.

Yesterday’s Hezbollah barrage brought to 33 the number of Israeli civilians killed by rocket fire in 25 days of fighting. Forty-five Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon, including one yesterday. An estimated 300,000 Israelis have fled their homes.

An Associated Press count showed at least 567 Lebanese have been killed, including 489 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry, 28 Lebanese soldiers and at least 50 Hezbollah guerrillas. The Lebanese government’s Higher Relief Council said 907 Lebanese had been killed in the conflict thus far.

Estimates of Lebanese homeless range from 800,000 to 1 million.

Late yesterday, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets in the southern port of Sidon, between Tyre and Beirut, saying rockets had been fired from nearby and warning civilians to evacuate Lebanon’s third-largest city and flee north ahead of retaliatory bombing.

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