Israel blasts Lebanon after heavy losses
Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded south Lebanon early on Thursday, hours after it suffered its heaviest losses in a 16 day old assault on Hezbollah guerrillas that shows no signs of abating.
Israeli jets knocked down communications masts in the Amsheet area north of Beirut after attacking three trucks carrying medical and food supplies to the east, killing two drivers, security sources said. Israel accuses Lebanon's eastern neighbour Syria of supplying Hezbollah with weapons.
Other aircraft blasted targets in and around several villages and towns in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim south as artillery batteries opened up at Lebanon's side of the border.
Shi'ite Hizbollah guerrillas killed nine Israeli soldiers in house-to-house fighting in a frontier town and a nearby village on Wednesday, the same day diplomats in Rome failed to agree on calling for an immediate ceasefire.
An Israeli general said the onslaught, which has killed 433 Lebanese, mostly civilians, would continue "for several more weeks". The fighting began on July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid.
A total of 51 Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah attacks in the border area and rockets in northern Israel.
Foreign ministers at the crisis conference pledged to work urgently for a "lasting, permanent and sustainable" ceasefire, but did not call for the fighting to stop now, as Lebanon and its Arab allies had demanded.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned Syria and Iran that they faced further isolation if they tried to scupper the U.S.-led attempts to get a ceasefire.
"This needs to be between Lebanon and Israel," Rice told reporters en route from Rome to Malaysia to meet Asian ministers.
The United States has backed Israeli demands for Hezbollah to pull back from the border and ultimately disarm.
Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, flew to Damascus on Wednesday for crisis talks with senior Syrian officials about the situation in the Middle East, diplomats said.
In stark contrast to Rice, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Iran and Syria should be included in efforts to halt the war. Rice blames Tehran and Damascus for stoking the conflict.
Israel, Iran and Syria were not invited to the Rome talks.
In the Gaza Strip, scene of another Israeli offensive, Israeli forces killed 24 Palestinians, including at least 12 militants during fighting.
Israel has killed 141 Palestinians in a month-long campaign to recover a captured soldier and stop rocket fire from Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Lebanon and the Palestinian territories face complete destruction in the latest Middle East violence.
"What is happening in Palestine is a complete destruction and it is happening in both Palestine and Lebanon," he told reporters on a visit to Algeria. "And at the same time, there is a refusal to reach a ceasefire that has been supported by European countries as well as Arab countries."
In the latest fighting in Lebanon, Lebanese security sources said guerrillas ambushed an Israeli force advancing on the town of Bint Jbeil, four km (2.5 miles) from the frontier.
The Israeli army said eight of its soldiers were killed at Bint Jbeil and 22 wounded. An Israeli army officer was killed and three soldiers were wounded in a Hezbollah attack on the nearby village of Maroun al-Ras.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert strove to limit diplomatic damage from the killing of four UN observers in an air strike on their post in south Lebanon on Tuesday, telling Annan he was sorry at the deaths, but expressing shock at the UN chief's suggestion the attack was deliberate.
An Irish army officer in south Lebanon had warned Israel six times that air strikes threatened the lives of UN observers before Tuesday's deaths, Ireland's Foreign Ministry said.
Israeli bombing has forced an estimated 750,000 people to flee their homes. Many are still trapped in war zones.
A large UN aid convoy reached the southern port of Tyre to distribute deliveries to an area devastated by Israeli bombing.