Israeli strike kills 14


Reuters
Date: 08-08-06

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli air strikes killed 14 villagers in south Lebanon on Tuesday as Beirut pleaded for a swift end to Israel's war with Hizbollah guerrillas that has cost around 1,000 Lebanese and 101 Israeli lives in four weeks.

Diplomats at the United Nations in New York said a vote on a resolution to end the war might not take place before Thursday, as fighting in south Lebanon raged on. The vote has been delayed because Lebanon demanded the resolution include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the south.

"We are working to have a quick ceasefire or at the very minimum an end to acts of aggression," said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "Then displaced people can return to their homes."

Israeli air raids killed 14 people and wounded 23 in the southern village of Ghaziyeh, rescue workers and hospital officials said. The bombs fell as mourners elsewhere in the village were burying 15 people killed by a raid there on Monday.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the building hit belonged to a senior Hizbollah member and was not near the funeral. She said all residents had been told in advance to leave.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed fighting guerrillas, raising Israel's military and civilian death toll to 101 in the war ignited by Hizbollah's capture of two soldiers on July 12.

Dozens more Hizbollah rockets landed in northern Israel on Tuesday, but there were no reports of casualties.

At least 992 people have been killed in Lebanon and the authorities say dozens more are still buried under rubble.

Despite global alarm at the rising casualties, days of intensive efforts at the U.N. Security Council to bring about a ceasefire and lasting peace have proved difficult.

Israel has vowed to expand its military offensive if no diplomatic solution emerges soon.

Lebanon has objected to a U.S.-French draft resolution and Arab envoys were to press Beirut's case at the United Nations for an amendment that would demand a quick Israeli withdrawal so the Lebanese army can take over the south from Hizbollah.

The Beirut government, in which Hizbollah has two ministers, has proposed to send 15,000 troops to the south if the Israelis withdraw, a plan welcomed warmly by France.

"It demonstrates the desire of all the parties in Lebanon to enable the Lebanese government to exercise its sovereignty over all its territory," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

"INTERESTING STEP"

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the plan as an "interesting step", but said his security cabinet would discuss on Wednesday a possible expansion of military operations in Lebanon, where 10,000 Israeli troops are already on the ground.

Israel has insisted the troops will stay until a robust international force arrives to keep Hizbollah at bay.

Lebanon is angry that the United Nations has done nothing to halt the war -- partly because Washington refuses to demand a ceasefire until the threat Hizbollah poses to Israel is removed.

Beirut has won some support from Russia as well as France, both of which hold veto power on the Security Council.

"It is obvious to us that a draft that is not favorable to the Lebanese side should not be adopted," said Moscow's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, saying this would only prolong the war.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said it would risk "exploding Lebanon's fragile internal political situation".

The United States has resisted the Lebanese demand for the draft to demand a quick Israeli withdrawal, saying it could enable Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, to rearm.

Denisov said if the diplomatic standoff continued, an interim "humanitarian" ceasefire resolution should be adopted.

Siniora almost wept as he described Lebanon's plight to Arab foreign ministers meeting in Beirut on Monday, but his emotion won little sympathy from Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

In a speech to Israel's parliament, she told him to "wipe his tears and to begin acting in order to produce a better future ... first of all for the civilians for whom he cries".

Roads in south Lebanon were virtually empty after the Israeli army warned that those who travel risked being bombed.

The Israeli army had told residents south of the Litani river, about 20 km (13 miles) from the border, not to drive after 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Monday. The open-ended ban exempts only aid convoys agreed in advance with Israel, the army said.

Fallen masonry was still hampering a search for bodies or survivors in a Beirut suburb struck by an air raid on Monday.

Police said the death toll had risen to at least 30 with 60 wounded, with others possibly buried in the ruins.

Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said hospitals would stop functioning in a few days when they run out of fuel.

Two tankers with fuel oil and diesel are docked outside of Israel's naval blockade off Lebanon's coast, but have refused to bring the supplies in without a written safety guarantee.

Israeli warplanes bombarded routes used by smugglers between Lebanon and Syria east of the town of Baalbek, security sources said. Witnesses said thick black smoke was billowing over the area, indicating trucks or fuel tankers were hit.

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Paris and UN bureaux)



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