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Fierce battle in Lebanon as talks start

The one-day meeting in Rome, co-chaired by Italy and the US, is to consider the conditions for a ceasefire.
None | By Reuters, Beirut
UPDATED ON JUL 26, 2006 04:46 PM IST

Fierce fighting raged in Lebanon on Wednesday as an international conference opened in Rome on how to end Israel's 15-day-old war with Hezbollah guerrillas.

Al-Jazeera television said nine Israeli soldiers had been killed during clashes with Hezbollah guerrillas in a south Lebanese village. Israeli medics reported heavy casualties.

The fighting was around Bint Jbeil, which Israel says is a Hezbollah stronghold, four kilometres inside Lebanon.

The battles occurred as foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, met in Rome to discuss how to end the war and bring humanitarian aid to Lebanon.

The one-day meeting, co-chaired by Italy and the United States, was to consider the conditions for a ceasefire, the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to southern Lebanon and the opening of safe corridors for aid.

France said it will present to the conference the "first outlines" of a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon followed by negotiations.

"Once there is a political agreement, then a multinational force will be able to be mobilised. France could participate," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told France Info radio, adding that the force should have a UN mandate.

Hezbollah vowed not to accept any "humiliating" truce terms and to take its rocket strikes deeper into Israel. Hours later, more missiles hit Haifa, wounding several people, police said

Israel and Syria, Hizbollah's main ally along with Iran, have not been invited to the Rome conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier strove to limit diplomatic damage from the killing of four UN observers in an air strike in south Lebanon on Tuesday.

He told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of his "deep sorrow" at the deaths, but voiced shock at Annan's suggestion the attack was deliberate. Olmert ordered an investigation.

Annan had demanded Israel probe the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the UN post in the village of Khiam on Tuesday.

China condemned the air raid, in which a Chinese observer was killed. The others were from Finland, Austria and Canada.

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