CHINA / National

Battles rage on eve of UN truce
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-14 05:27

BEIRUT: Israeli troops battled Hezbollah guerrillas across southern Lebanon yesterday on the eve of today's UN-brokered truce, and the Israeli Government said its forces would not withdraw until a stronger peacekeeping force arrived.

Brazilian Muslim children light candles in memory of Lebanese children killed in the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel during a rally organized by the Lebanese community in Sao Paulo. The event, on Saturday, called for a ceasefire by Israeli troops in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. [AFP]

The United Nations said Israeli and Lebanese leaders had agreed that a truce would take effect at 0500 GMT today.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday his guerrillas would observe a truce but reserved the right to fight Israeli soldiers still on Lebanese soil.

Lebanon rejected initial drafts of a UN resolution to end the fighting because they did not call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal.

The resolution approved by the Security Council on Friday calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and for Israel to withdraw its troops "at the earliest." As they withdraw, 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and an expanded international force of 15,000 foreign troops, likely to be led by France, will be deployed.

Israel's cabinet approved the Security Council resolution yesterday but Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israeli troops would only pull out when the international force was deployed which the UN says could take a week to 10 days.

"Israel will leave in tandem with the deployment south of the Lebanese army along with the international force not a situation where we see that a Lebanese army soldier has arrived and now they tell us to leave," she told a news conference.

Al-Arabiya television reported that seven Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting in south Lebanon yesterday.

Saturday was the deadliest day of the month-old war for the Israeli army, with 19 soldiers killed and five missing and feared dead after their helicopter was shot down by Hezbollah.

Israeli aircraft attacked targets in more than 50 villages and towns, Lebanese security sources said, killing at least six people in southern Lebanon and seven in the Bekaa valley.

Several explosions shook Beirut and thick white smoke billowed over the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs. The attack destroyed 11 residential buildings.

More than 153 rockets fired by Hezbollah hit northern Israel, killing one person and wounding 11, Israeli police said.

Israel widened its offensive on Friday despite the UN resolution. Some 30,000 Israeli troops are in Lebanon.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said fighting should end immediately to spare civilians.

"The fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Security Council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through," Annan said.

At least 1,078 people in Lebanon and 144 Israelis, including 104 soldiers, have been killed in the war.

Analysts cautioned that a truce may not hold, particularly with Israeli troops still in Lebanon.

"I think this talk of a ceasefire going into effect tomorrow seems to be highly exaggerated and dubious," said Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"It seems that Israel's strategy has been to establish positions as far north as possible to implement a fighting withdrawal, meaning that they will try to take on as much of Hezbollah as they can as they work their way south."

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that the Israeli Government was willing to discuss a possible release of Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for the freeing of two Israeli soldiers whose capture on July 12 sparked the war.

In Lebanon, three civilians were killed and 13 wounded in an Israeli air raid on the village of Ali Al Nahri in the eastern Bekaa Valley, security sources said.

Five people, including a mother and her three children, died when a house was struck near the southern city of Tyre, and two people were killed and four wounded when a truck was hit in the eastern Bekaa valley. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in an air strike in the Bekaa valley and another was killed in Tyre.

Artillery pounded Hezbollah-held areas in south Lebanon. Hundreds of rounds crashed into the Hezbollah stronghold of Khiam, residents said.

Hezbollah reported fierce fighting in several parts of the border area and said its guerrillas destroyed at least three tanks and two bulldozers. It said guerrillas were fighting an Israeli unit trying to reach the downed helicopter.

The Israeli military said it had launched more than 100 air strikes in Lebanon since Friday evening, attacking more than 50 Hezbollah command stations, two missile launchers, and two vehicles carrying weapons from Syria to the Bekaa valley.
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