Israel strikes deep in Lebanon

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 02-Aug-06 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Israeli soldiers wait for instructions before advancing into southern Lebanon from northern Israel, on the Lebanese border, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006.
BAALBEK, Lebanon Israeli commandos captured suspected Hezbollah members from Lebanon's ancient city of Baalbek on Wednesday in a helicopter-borne night raid backed by air strikes that killed 19 people, including four children.

Three Lebanese army soldiers were also killed in a separate Israeli air strike in south Lebanon, security sources said.

The latest violence shattered a partial lull in Israeli bombing and was despite intensive international diplomacy aimed at halting the three-week-old war in which at least 646 people in Lebanon and 54 Israelis have been killed.

Fighting raged for four hours after the Israelis landed near a previously evacuated Hizbollah-run hospital outside Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa Valley, as helicopters fired missiles and heavy machineguns to support the assault, witnesses said.

The Israeli army said commandos seized five suspected Hezbollah militants in the raid.

"During the night, [Israeli] forces operated in the town of Baalbek," an Israeli army spokeswoman said. "A number of terrorists were also arrested and taken to Israel."

Hezbollah denied any of its militants had been taken, though Lebanese security sources said at least three low-ranking members of the Shiite Islamist group were seized in the raid.

At least 12 civilians were killed when Israeli air strikes hit the village of Jammaliyeh near Baalbek, including five family members who were found dead in the rubble of their house, security sources said. Another family of five were killed in a strike on the village of Saath.

After the Israeli commandos withdrew, air strikes destroyed the three-story al-Hikmah hospital, which had been evacuated before the raid.

One motorist was killed by a strike in Hermel to the north.

Israel is seeking to damage Hizbollah as much as it can before diplomacy ends the war. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the Unted States said a ceasefire could be reached within days.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel also spoke of a political process that would lead to a ceasefire "under entirely different conditions than before" now that Hezbollah had suffered what he said were heavy losses.

Israel says it will not stop fighting until an international force is in place in southern Lebanon, but the U.N. Security Council has yet to agree on a mandate for such a force.

The raid on Baalbek, 100 km inside Lebanon, followed the expiry of a 48-hour bombing pause agreed by Israel under U.S. pressure after an air strike killed 54 civilians, including 37 children, in the southern village of Qana.

In the south, Israeli forces clashed with Hezbollah guerrillas near several frontier villages. Hezbollah said it had destroyed three tanks near the village of Adayseh, killing or wounding their crews. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

The three Lebanese soldiers were killed when Israeli planes bombed their army post in the village of Sarba, 14 km, southeast of Sidon, security sources said.

Israeli aircraft also wrecked at least three bridges in the northern tip of the Bekaa and in northern Lebanon.

Hezbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded 30 in fighting on several fronts in south Lebanon on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged big powers to patch up rifts on the crisis. He rescheduled a meeting of potential contributors to an international force for Thursday.