Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Lebanese, Israeli civilians bear brunt of violence

BOMBARDMENT Israeli planes bombed Beirut and east and south Lebanon, while Hezbollah fired several missiles into the city of Haifa, killing two

AGENCIES , BEIRUT AND JERUSALEM

Israel unleashed more air strikes on Lebanon and Hezbollah fired rockets at Haifa yesterday as a senior UN official demanded a halt to the violence to allow aid to reach desperate civilians.

The Israeli army said it had yet to decide whether to launch a major ground incursion into Lebanon, while Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel could accept a temporary international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, an idea earlier described as premature by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"Due to the weakness of the Lebanese army, we support the deployment in the south of a multi-national force with broad authority," Peretz told German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Peretz gave no time-frame for deploying the force, but suggested it would be led by NATO. Israel views the existing UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon as a failure.

Civilians took the brunt of renewed bombardments yesterday in a war that has cost at least 361 lives in Lebanon and 37 in Israel.

Two people were killed and 15 wounded when Hezbollah rockets slammed into apartments and vehicles in Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, which lies 35km south of the border.

More than 1,000 Hezbollah rockets have killed 17 Israeli civilians, prompting between a third to a half of all residents in northern Israel to escape the bombardment, officials said.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in Beirut and east and south Lebanon, killing at least five civilians and wounding about 80, many of them in the southern port of Tyre.

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said the violence must stop to enable major aid efforts to get under way.

He said Israeli bombing of the once-crowded Shiite district had breached humanitarian law.

"It is horrific. I did not know it was block after block of houses," he told reporters.

Israel's Army Radio said more troops were expected to move into southern Lebanon yesterday to widen the army's ground operations against Hezbollah close to the frontier.

Lebanon's parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said yesterday that Hezbollah had agreed to the Lebanese government dealing through a third party with Israel on a prisoner swap involving the two Israeli soldiers captured at the start of the conflict.

"The Lebanese government will lead the exchange through the intermediary of a third party. This has been accepted by Hezbollah," Berri, who is close to the Lebanese militia, told journalists.

In Jerusalem, envoys from three European countries joined intensifying diplomacy yesterday aimed at ending the fighting.

Ministers from France, Germany and Britain were due to hold separate talks with Israeli officials ahead of the arrival of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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