- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

3:44 p.m.

BEIRUT (AP) — Israel massed tanks and troops on the border, called up reserves and warned civilians to flee Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon as it prepared today for a likely ground invasion to set up a deep buffer zone.

The army’s chief of staff said that forces would conduct ground operations as needed in Lebanon but that they would be “limited.” Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz also said nearly 100 Hezbollah guerrillas have been killed in the offensive in Lebanon.

“We will fight terror wherever it is because if we do not fight it, it will fight us. If we don’t reach it, it will reach us,” Gen. Halutz said in a nationally televised news conference. “We will also conduct limited ground operations as much as needed in order to harm the terror that harms us.”

An Israeli envoy said the nation will allow aid supplies into Lebanon, a day after the United Nations warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

Hezbollah militants fired at least 11 rockets at Israel’s port city of Haifa, wounding five persons. Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanon’s main road link to Syria, collapsing part of Lebanon’s longest bridge. A U.N.-run observation post near the border was hit, but no one was hurt.

Ships lined up at Beirut’s port as a massive evacuation of Americans and other foreigners picked up speed. U.S. officials said more than 8,000 of the roughly 25,000 Americans in Lebanon will be evacuated by the weekend.

After 10 days of the heaviest bombardment of Lebanon in 24 years, Israel appears to have decided that a large-scale incursion is the only way to push Hezbollah back.

As sunset approached, long lines of tanks, troops, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers lined up on a two-lane highway in northern Israel. In one area, the soldiers were close enough to see Lebanese villages and homes.

Mounting civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese could limit the time Israel has to achieve its goals as international tolerance for the bloodshed and destruction runs out.

An Israeli military radio station warned residents of 12 border villages in southern Lebanon to leave before 2 p.m. today.

At least 335 persons have been killed in Lebanon in the Israeli campaign, according to the Lebanese health minister. Thirty-four Israelis also have been killed, including 19 soldiers.

Lebanese soldiers buried 72 persons killed in recent bombings in a mass grave just outside a barracks in the southern city of Tyre. Volunteers put the bodies, many of them children, in wooden coffins and spray-painted the names of the dead on the lids.

The United States — which has resisted calls to press its ally to halt the fighting — is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Mideast on Sunday. She ruled out a quick cease-fire as a “false promise” and said “Hezbollah is the source of the problem.”

The mission would be the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon began.

Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said he expected a corridor for food, medicine and other supplies to be opened later today or Saturday. His remarks came as French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called for safe passage of urgent aid his country was sending.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned yesterday of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and called for an immediate cease-fire, even as he admitted “serious obstacles” stand in the way of easing the violence.

The price of food, medical supplies and gasoline rose as much as 500 percent in parts of Lebanon as the bombardment cut supply routes.

The United Nations estimated that 500,000 persons have been displaced, with 130,000 fleeing to Syria and 45,000 believed to be in need of assistance.

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