HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS KILL 9 ISRAELI SOLDIERS
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer July 26, 2006
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Hezbollah dealt Israel its heaviest losses in the Lebanon campaign Wednesday, killing nine soldiers in fierce
firefights. With key Mideast players failing to agree on a formula for a cease-fire, an Israeli
general said the operation could last weeks.
Israel said it intends to damage Hezbollah and establish a "security
zone" that would be free of the guerrillas and extend 1.2 miles into Lebanon
from the Israeli border. Such a zone would prevent Hezbollah from carrying out cross-border raids such as the one two weeks
ago which triggered the Israeli military response.
Israel said it would maintain such a zone, with firepower or other
means, until the arrival of an international force with muscle to be deployed in a wider swath of southern Lebanon — as opposed to the U.N. force already there
that has failed to prevent the violence.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said participants
at a daylong conference on the Mideast crisis agreed Wednesday on the need for a strong international
force under a U.N. mandate. Italy, Turkey
and Spain all said they might send troops.
Rice said more work was
needed to define the force and its mission. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and diplomats from European and moderate Arab countries also attended
the meeting; Israel, Iran and Syria did not.
The Israeli bombardment
has failed to stop guerrilla rocket fire, even while killing hundreds, driving up to 750,000 people from their homes and causing
billion of dollars in damage. Hezbollah fired another large barrage into northern Israel on Wednesday — 151 rockets
that wounded at least 31 people and damaged property from the suburbs of the port on Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea to the
Hula Valley above the Sea of Galilee. Over the past two weeks, the guerrillas have fired 1,436 rockets into Israel.
Pushing Hezbollah back with
ground troops was proving to be bloody. Several thousand troops are in Lebanon,
Israeli military officials said — mainly in a roughly 6-square-mile pocket around the town of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold just over two miles from the border.
The Hezbollah fighters are
heavily outnumbered, with some 100 in Bint Jbail and several hundred more in surrounding fields, bunkers and cave, according
to the officials. But they use classic guerrilla tactics, choosing when to strike in the hilly territory they know well. They
are dug in with extensive tunnel networks and stockpiling weapons, including rockets with which they pelted Israeli forces
Violence was also increasing
on the other front of Israel's fight on Islamic militants: Gaza, where Hamas-linked militants are holding an Israeli soldier seized a month ago. A force
of 50 tanks and bulldozers entered the northern Gaza Strip
to battle Hamas gunmen. Israeli air and artillery attacks killed 23 Palestinians, including at least 16 militants and three
Israel was feeling pressure
on the international front — and anger over a bombing Tuesday night that directly hit a U.N. observation post on the
border, killing four U.N. observers.
At the Rome
talks, Rice resisted pressure from allies for Washington
to change its stance and call for an immediate halt to the violence.
Rice insisted any cease-fire
must be "sustainable" and that there could be "no return to the status quo" — a reference to the U.S. and Israeli position that Hezbollah must first be pushed
back from the border and the Lebanese army backed by international forces deployed in the south.
The chief of Israel's northern command warned that the fight would drag
"I assume it will continue
for several more weeks, and in a number of weeks we will be able to (declare) a victory," Maj. Gen. Udi Adam told a news conference.
While the ground battle
was intensifying, the bombardment in rest of Lebanon
appeared to be easing. Israeli jets were heard repeatedly over Beirut
in the evening, but the capital saw no strikes.
About 24 airstrikes were
reported outside the immediate border region Wednesday, down from nearly 30 a day recently. One strike in the center of the
southern port of Tyre
collapsed the top floor and ripped the facade off an empty seven-story building where Hezbollah's top commander in the south
has offices. The strike wounded 13 people, including six children, nearby.
Warplanes continued to target
trucks at a time when aid groups are worried about moving aid to the south by truck. Three trucks carrying vegetables were
hit in the Bekaa Valley and another on a
road between Syria and Beirut.
The eight deaths in Bint
Jbail, which Israel has been trying to take for four days, were the heaviest
Israeli casualties in a single battle during the Lebanon
Israeli troops had thought
they secured the area around the town, but the guerrillas ambushed a patrol before dawn, said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli
army spokesman. A rescue force went in, and fighting escalated. Hezbollah said its guerrillas ambushed an Israeli unit from
three sides as it tried to advance from a ridge on the outskirts of the town.
Eight soldiers were killed
and 22 wounded in the fighting, the army said. It later reported a ninth soldier killed and several other casualties in the
nearby village of Maroun
At least 30 guerrillas were
killed Wednesday, an Israeli military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release
the information. Hezbollah announced no casualties; it has acknowledged 19 dead in four days of fighting around Bint Jbail.
The area features dense
growth of underbrush and trees, with hills and narrow, winding roads — ideal for guerrilla emplacements and ambushes.
Israeli media reported that some of the casualties resulted from direct hits by anti-tank rockets and others from roadside
So far, Israeli troops have
gone house to house taking positions on the outskirts of the town, without going far inside Bint Jbail, the Israeli official
Bint Jbail has great symbolic
importance for the Hezbollah guerrillas, who are Shiite Muslims. It has the largest Shiite community in the border area and
was known as the "capital of the resistance" during Israel's
1982-1990 occupation because of its vehement support for Hezbollah.
An Israeli seizure of the
town would rob Hezbollah of a significant refuge overlooking northern Israel
and force its fighters to operate from smaller, more vulnerable villages in the south.
Wednesday's deaths brought
to 51 the number of Israelis killed in the campaign, including 32 members of the military, according to the military.
In Lebanon, at least 423 people have been killed — including 376 civilians reported
by the Health Ministry and security officials, 20 Lebanese soldiers and 27 fighters Hezbollah has acknowledged were killed.
Israel says more than 100 guerrillas have
About 100 foreigners who
had been visiting family homes in Yaroun — a few miles from Bint Jbail — fled to Tyre and said their village had been ravaged by bombardment. Most of the foreigners were
Americans of Lebanese descent.
"It was worse than a nightmare.
I saw dogs and cats on bodies that couldn't be taken from bombed-out houses. We ran from one building to another trying to
escape the bombing," said Ali Abbas Tehfi of Los Angeles.
"It didn't stop. It didn't
stop even for a day. Everything is finished," he said. He said an unknown number of Americans were still trapped in Yaroun.