Israeli raids kill 50 in Lebanon
Thousands of villagers fled north and more foreigners were evacuated to escape the eight-day-old war.india Updated: Jul 19, 2006 17:22 IST
Israel unleashed fierce air strikes on Lebanon on Wednesday, killing 49 civilians and a Hezbollah fighter, as thousands of villagers fled north and more foreigners were evacuated to escape the eight-day-old war.
Israeli troops crossed the border to raid Hezbollah posts and Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV said two soldiers had been killed and two wounded in clashes with the Shi'ite Muslim guerrillas.
Israeli medics said earlier two Israeli soldiers had been wounded in the fighting. The army had no immediate comment.
More Hezbollah rockets fell on the Israeli city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant. A few people were hurt.
Hezbollah said it had also rocketed an Israeli air force base at Ramat David, about 35 kms inside Israel, and the town of Nahariya. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.
Despite international diplomatic efforts, there was no sign Israel or its Lebanese Shi'ite foes were ready to heed the Beirut government's pleas for an immediate halt to a war that has cost at least 285 lives in Lebanon and 25 in Israel.
Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to swap two Israeli soldiers it captured on July 12 for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli jails. Israel is determined to drive the guerrillas from the south to halt cross-border rocket attacks.
"The intensive fighting against the Hezbollah organisation shall continue," Israel's inner cabinet said, adding that the aim was to recover the soldiers and remove the Hezbollah threat.
At least 12 Lebanese, including several children, were killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli air strike that destroyed houses in the southern village of Srifa, residents said.
"There was a massacre in Srifa," the village's mayor, Afif Najdi, told the agency, saying the death toll could climb to at least 17 once all the bodies had been pulled from the rubble.
At least 37 other civilians were killed in air strikes that hammered other parts of south and east Lebanon, security sources said. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
An Israeli helicopter fired four missiles at trucks with drilling gear in a leafy road in Ashrafiya, a Christian district of Beirut, witnesses said. No one was hurt in the strikes.
Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Israel was trying to destroy Lebanon's infrastructure, not just to defeat Hezbollah. "Are they turning it into a second Iraq?" he asked.
Three Indian workers were killed in an air strike on a glass factory in the eastern Bekaa Valley, medical sources said.
Israeli planes also bombed a base of the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Bekaa, the PFLP said. The guerrilla group gave no word on casualties.
The conflict has forced about 100,000 Lebanese to flee their homes. Displaced families packed into pick-up trucks and cars, many flying white flags, drove from border areas towards Sidon, the main city in the south, to try to escape the violence.
Panicked foreigners flooded out of the country.
"It's very bad, very sad, I can't believe what's happening," said a tearful Lubna Jaber, an Australian who had come to visit relatives in Lebanon. She was waiting in downtown Beirut with about 350 compatriots to board buses and then a ferry to Turkey.
Nine military ships and thousands of Marines and sailors were involved in a US evacuation, US officials said. More than 2,400 Americans are to be transported by air and sea on Wednesday, the first of up to 8,000 to be taken from Lebanon.
France said about 8,000 of its 17,000 citizens resident in Lebanon had asked to be evacuated. A ferry that can carry 1,200 was due to pick up people later in the day after taking 900 foreigners, most of them French, to Cyprus two days earlier.
Israel's offensive in Lebanon has coincided with a three-week-old push into the Gaza Strip to retrieve another soldier, seized by Palestinian militants on June 25.
Tanks pushed into Gaza's Maghazi refugee camp on Wednesday, killing four gunmen and two civilians and wounding 52 people, including 10 children. Five Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinian gunmen in a raid on a security compound in the occupied West Bank town of Nablus, where bulldozers also demolished two buildings used by the Hamas-led government.
International diplomacy has failed so far to rein in the violence in the Middle East, tangled with wider regional conflicts involving Syria, Iran, Iraq and others.