Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Israeli troops advance deeper into Lebanon

BREATHING ROOM The Jewish state sought to carve out a buffer zone to protect itself from attacks, after Hezbollah fired a record 231 missiles at it on Wednesday

DPA , TEL AVIV AND BEIRUT

An Israeli reservist covers his ears as a mobile artillery unit fires a 155mm shell towards Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon at a military staging area outside the northern Israeli settlement of Fasuta on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Israeli forces pushed deeper into south Lebanon yesterday, advancing north and west in an attempt to carve out a 6km to 8km-deep buffer zone free of Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israel also renewed airstrikes on Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon, killing three members of the same family, and by mid-afternoon Hezbollah had fired 32 missiles at the Jewish state.

The Israeli army said troops had established positions around 11 villages, including Majdel Zoun, which, at about 6km north of the border and 11km south of Tyre, is the deepest Israeli troops have penetrated into Lebanon.

Lebanese security officials said the Israeli infantry and armor were apparently trying to capture three strategic hilltops which would give them a wide view over large parts of the south, from the coastal region of Naqoura inland towards the Hezbollah strongholds of Bint Jbeil, Tebnin and Nabatiyeh.

Lebanese police said the Israeli advance had encountered heavy resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas in recent days, as intense on-and-off clashes with the Iranian-backed group continued.

Israel sent two more brigades into south Lebanon overnight, to join the five already operating there -- bringing the total number of troops north of the border to about 10,000, Israel Army Radio reported.

The aim of the latest Israeli push is to carve out a "security zone" wider than the 2km-3km buffer Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of last week, and similar to the self-proclaimed "security zone" which Israel occupied for 18 years in southern Lebanon until its withdrawal in May 2000.

Israel wants to keep control over the zone, and prevent Hezbollah from re-establishing itself there, until the arrival of a multinational force in southern Lebanon, which the UN Security Council hopes to authorize in a special session expected next week.

Major Avi Ortal, an operations officer in one of the brigades operating in southern Lebanon, told Israel Army radio that the aim was to "clean and occupy a very wide strip and move on [from the east and center of the border] in the direction of the coast."

Israel suffered a number of casualties in fierce fighting yesterday, while Hezbollah suffered four fatalities. An army statement said one Israeli soldier and about 35 armed Hezbollah gunmen were killed in heavy fighting in several villages on Wednesday.

In addition to the ground fighting, Israel also attacked from the air, bombing more than 120 targets overnight including southern Beirut, the first attacks on the Lebanese capital since Israel agreed to a partial suspension of aerial raids on Sunday.

Witnesses reported loud explosions echoing throughout Beirut as Israeli jets raided the Beir al-Abed and Haret Hriek neighborhoods in its southern suburbs, considered a Hezbollah hotbed and known as "Hezbollah's security square."

The new air raids came after Hezbollah launched a record number of missiles -- 231 -- at northern Israeli towns and villages on Wednesday.

The army claimed the targets hit overnight included buildings used by Hezbollah as offices and to store weapons as well as areas from which the guerrillas launch rockets into Israel.

Israel also said it had hit six missile launchers and a vehicle it claimed was transporting weapons.

In eastern Lebanon, Israeli jets also destroyed a bridge linking the town of Hermel with the ancient city of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon.

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