- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

From combined dispatches

BEIRUT — Israel stepped up its air attacks yesterday and threatened to expand its ground offensive, warning residents of south Lebanon to stay off the streets or face the risk of being bombed.

Bombing also cut the last road link to southern Lebanon, reducing aid groups to carrying tons of food and medicine across the Litani River on a tree trunk.

Air strikes killed at least 55 persons and wounded 30 across the country, including 15 who died in the collapse of a building in a crowded area in Shi’ite-dominated south Beirut. Israel reported three soldiers killed in ground fighting and five civilians injured by missiles.

Israel’s warning said that any vehicles seen moving in southern Lebanon after 10 p.m. last night could be targeted.

“Anyone who does travel is taking a high risk. There is no end period,” an army source said. “This will allow us to track anyone potentially trying to launch rockets.”

Israeli aircraft also hit the last bridge crossing the Litani River on the coast between Sidon and Tyre, cutting the main artery for aid supplies to civilians in the south, aid agencies said.

The private relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had to carry 4 tons of medical aid and fuel over a tree trunk across the Litani.

“We must be able to have movement throughout the country to deliver supplies. At this point we can’t do that,” said the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, David Shearer.

Israel suffered its military losses around Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold just a few miles across the border where members of the Islamist militia are still holding out after more than two weeks of Israeli ground assaults.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed by an anti-tank missile and one was fatally shot by a sniper, military officials said.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his senior security advisers discussed proposals to speed up the army’s northward movement in order to push most of Hezbollah’s rockets out of range of Israel.

The Associated Press quoted one minister, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as saying the army needed to send all available ground forces into Lebanon immediately.

Mr. Olmert and his advisers also discussed proposals to attack Lebanese national infrastructure, not just Hezbollah targets, in order to make Beirut more amenable to cease-fire proposals that are acceptable to Israel.

“We are now in a process of renewed escalation,” a senior General Staff officer was quoted as saying by Ha’aretz newspaper. “We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah, but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure.”

Although the officer did not mention specific civilian targets, Beirut’s power grid would appear to be particularly vulnerable.

Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said the war thus far has killed 925 persons, mostly civilians, and that another 75 were missing and presumed dead. About one-third of the dead were children under the age of 13, he said, according to Reuters news agency.

Ninety-seven Israelis have also been killed.

Hezbollah announced the deaths of two more of its fighters. An Israeli army spokesman said more than 400 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the war. Lebanese security sources say Hezbollah has lost about 90 dead, about 35 more than it acknowledges.

• Correspondent Abraham Rabinovich contributed to this article from Jerusalem.

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