WORLD / Middle East

Israel fights militants in Lebanon's south
(AP)
Updated: 2006-07-23 08:31

The village was strategically important because it overlooked an area where Hezbollah had command posts, Gantz said. The forces seized a cache of weapons and rockets in a village mosque, he added. The village is believed to be a launching point for the rocket attacks on northern Israel.

At one point, a half-ton bomb was dropped on a Hezbollah outpost, about 500 yards from the border and near the village. Other positions were bombarded by Israeli gunboats off the coast.

About 32 residents took refuge at the U.N. observers post. Nearly the entire remaining population of the village which numbered about 2,300 before the crisis broke out were believed to have fled, Lebanese security officials said.

Some of the invading forces returned to Israel during the day. U.N. peacekeepers and witnesses said Israel also briefly held the nearby village of Marwaheen before pulling back.

About 35,000 fleeing Lebanese filled Sidon as they searched for a place to stay or a way to get farther north.

"I'm afraid a disaster is going to happen with all these refugees. There's no aid, not from other nations, not from Lebanon," Mayor Abdul-Rahman al-Bizri said.

More than 200,000 Lebanese fled to Syria, according to the Syrian Red Crescent.

A steady stream of foreign nationals boarded ships and planes Saturday to take them away. U.S. officials said more than 7,500 Americans had been evacuated from Lebanon by Saturday night.

"Everybody's crying and kissing and wishing you well, and you have to turn and leave. We have the chance to get out, but they don't," said Susan Abu Hamdan, 44, of Northville, Mich., who was visiting her siblings in Beirut.

The Israeli army said it wanted to completely destroy all Hezbollah infrastructure in an area between a half-mile and two miles from the border, but it had no intention of going deeper into Lebanon.

"We really want to knock out Hezbollah in this area," said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an army spokesman. "We want to wipe them out, and we don't intend for them to ever be there again."

A senior Israeli military official confirmed that Israel did not plan to reoccupy southern Lebanon as it did in 1982-2000 to create a buffer zone to protect northern Israel.

Israel's current offensive began July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid.

Israeli airstrikes on Saturday blasted communications and television transmission towers in the central and northern Lebanese mountains, knocking the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. off the air and killing one person at the station.

The death toll in Lebanon rose to at least 372, Lebanese authorities said.

Over the past 11 days, Hezbollah has launched nearly 1,000 rockets into Israel, killing 15 civilians and sending hundreds of thousands of others fleeing into bunkers. At least 132 rockets landed in Israel on Saturday, wounding 20 people, three seriously, rescue officials said.

A total of 19 Israeli troops have been killed in the fighting so far.

Hezbollah also fired at the army base of Nurit in Israel, wounding one soldier, the army said.

Israel's call for Lebanese to leave much of the area south of the Litani River caused many to fear that a far deeper Israeli ground incursion was being planned, an offensive that would almost certainly lead to far higher casualties.

More than 400,000 people live south of the Litani. Though tens of thousands have left, many are believed still there, trapped by the damaged roads or by fear of being caught in an airstrike.

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