TYRE, Lebanon Israeli warplane and artillery attacks today hit Hezbollah positions and crushed houses and roads in southern Lebanon, killing up to 12 people. Hezbollah said it fired a new kind of rocket, which landed deeper inside Israel than hundreds of other strikes in 17 days of fighting.
The Israel army said late in the day that it killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas in the fight for the southern town of Bint Jbail. The army had no comment on Israeli casualties, but Israel Radio reported six Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Eight Israelis died earlier this week in the battle for Bint Jbail. The town has the largest Shiite community along the border and became known as the capital of the resistance during Israel s 1982-2000 occupation because of its vehement support for the Shiite Hezbollah.
Earlier today, the United Nations decided to remove 50 observers from the Israeli-Lebanon border, locating them instead at better-protected posts with 2,000 lightly armed U.N. peacekeepers. The move comes days after Israeli bombs hit a U.N. observer station, killing four.
Also, the United States evacuated about 500 more U.S. citizens from Beirut aboard a chartered cruise ship, believed to the last U.S.-organized mass departure for Americans. Some 15,000 U.S. citizens have now left Lebanon.
The European Union said it has finished evacuating most of its 20,000 citizens who wanted to leave Lebanon, and will now help evacuate nationals of poorer, non-EU countries.
Diplomatic efforts emerged on several fronts to end the crisis, which erupted after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid July 12, sparking Israel s harsh retaliation.
In Washington, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they want an international force dispatched quickly to the Mideast and called for a U.N. resolution next week.
Standing side-by-side at the White House, Bush and Blair said any plan to end the fighting must address long-running regional issues a reference to Hezbollah s control of south Lebanon and the influence of Syria and Iran in Lebanon s affairs.
Bush said he and Blair envisioned a resolution providing a framework for the cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis and mandating the multinational force.
He announced he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the region Saturday to negotiate the terms.
The united stance by Bush and Blair on addressing the root causes of the current crisis set them against other European and Arab nations. Earlier today, French President Jacques Chirac said France will press for the rapid adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced it used a new rocket, the Khaibar-1 named after a famed battle between Islam s Prophet Muhammad and Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula to strike the northern Israeli town of Afula. Guerrilla rockets have hit near the town before, but this attack was the deepest yet.
Israeli police said five rockets hit outside Afula but caused no injuries.
The strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed his guerrillas would fire rockets beyond Haifa, Israel s third-largest city, which has been hit repeatedly in the conflict.
Israeli authorities said the rocket was likely a renamed Fajr-5, an Iranian-made weapon whose 45-mile range could hit the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv. It would be the first time Hezbollah has launched a Fajr-5, after firing hundreds of smaller Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.
The rockets that hit outside Afula carried 220 pounds of explosives; the Fajr-5 is capable of carrying twice that amount. Hezbollah has hit Haifa in deadly strikes using the Fajr-3, which has a somewhat shorter range; 220 pounds is around its maximum payload.
Guerrillas today also fired 96 smaller rockets at several northern Israeli towns, the Israeli army said. One rocket hit the top floor window of the main hospital in the Israeli border town of Nahariya. No casualties were reported in the rocket fire.
The group did not specify the range of the new rocket or give other details. But Israeli police said it was the first time a missile of this type has hit Israel and that it carried 220 pounds of explosives. That is about the size of the payload of the Fajr-3 rocket that Hezbollah has fired previously, but the Fajr-3 is not believed to have the range to hit Afula.
The heaviest known Hezbollah rocket is the Fajr-5, with a 440-pound payload and a range of 45 miles, able to hit Tel Aviv s northern outskirts.
Late Thursday and early today, Israeli warplanes struck 130 targets in Lebanon, including a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, where long-range rockets were stored, 57 Hezbollah structures, six missile-launching sites and six communication facilities, Israel said.
The bombardment along with artillery pounding the south often hit populated areas and caused casualties.
One airstrike flattened a house in the village of Hadatha, and six people inside were believed dead or wounded, the Lebanese state news agency reported. Hezbollah s al-Manar TV said all six were dead.
Missiles fired by Israeli jets also destroyed three buildings in the village of Kfar Jouz near the market town of Nabatiyeh. A Jordanian was killed with a Lebanese couple when their shelter collapsed, Lebanese security officials said.
Nine people, including children, were wounded in the raid, which apparently targeted an apartment belonging to a Hezbollah activist. Civil defense teams in Kfar Jouz struggled to rescue people believed buried under the rubble of a collapsed three-story structure, witnesses said.
Three women were killed in strikes on their homes in southern villages of Talouseh, Sheitiyeh and Bazouriyeh Nasrallah s hometown, security officials said.
Israel fired more than 40 artillery shells at the village of Arnoun just outside Nabatiyeh, next to the Crusader-era Beaufort Castle, which has a commanding view of the border area, witnesses said. Israeli artillery also hit a convoy evacuating villagers from Rmeish, lightly wounding a driver and a Lebanese cameraman for German TV news.
At least 443 people have been killed in Lebanon in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to a Health Ministry count Thursday based on bodies taken to hospitals, plus deaths today confirmed by security forces. But Lebanon s health minister estimated Thursday that as many as Lebanese 600 civilians have been killed, with other victims buried in rubble.
On the Israeli side, 33 soldiers have died in fighting, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians, the Israeli army said.
The army said today that Israeli troops have killed about 200 Hezbollah guerrillas, but Hezbollah has reported only 35 casualties.
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