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French Version

Invaders test ground defenses in South

Israel has opened a 60-kilometer front along the southern Lebanese border, from Naqoura to Majidiyeh, a Lebanese security source said on Thursday.

"This front is to estimate Hizbullah's retaliation strength on the ground," the source said.

"The fighting zone is inside Lebanese territory, which the UN itself has marked and which Israel agrees is Lebanese."

As The Daily Star went to press, three Israeli bombs fell on the southern suburbs of the capital and additional ordnance hit the northern city of Baalbek, leaving both areas ablaze. No casualty count was available.

Although up to now Israel has only hinted that it might undertake a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, on Thursday its tanks in fact attempted to cross the UN-demarcated Blue Line.

According to a Hizbullah statement, Israeli troops met "fierce resistance from Hizbullah fighters as the Israelis crossed into Lebanon."

An Israeli Army spokesperson said his troops were looking for "tunnels and weapons for the second day."

The Hizbullah statement said Israeli tanks and soldiers were "relentlessly trying to advance into Lebanese territory to achieve any military victory, but they were defeated by Hizbullah fighters. The latest Israeli attempt to advance toward the Southern Lebanon town of Maroun Al-Rass failed as the Israelis lost two Merkava tanks and a helicopter."

According to a statement from Amal, one Hizbullah fighter - identified as Hani Alawiya, 50 - died in the clashes at Maroun Al-Rass.

A separate Hizbullah statement said nine Israeli soldiers died in a Hizbullah ambush Thursday afternoon.

The resistance group's Al-Manar TV aired footage of Israeli Army equipment seized by Hizbullah fighters in the clashes.

Hizbullah guerrillas continued on Thursday their missile bombardment of Haifa, the party said, and fighters advanced as far inside Israel as the northern settlement of Avirvim.

Meanwhile, a source close to the resistance denied reports that rocket posts in Baalbek had been hit, or that the party had such posts in the area.

Media reports said Thursday that Israeli warplanes had struck Hizbullah's rocket operations headquarters in Baalbek and claimed the unit controlled the party's storage and distribution of rockets.

Also Thursday, Israeli warplanes and warships continued their bombardment of Lebanon, from the North to the South and the Bekaa Valley.

In the latest reported civilian casualties, four Lebanese were killed when an Israeli missile struck their car in Tyre as they were fleeing the city.

Beirut's southern suburbs were hit in the early morning. The strike targeted a construction site that Hizbullah said was a mosque.

"No Hizbullah leaders or members died in Thursday's bombing of Bourj al-Barajneh [part of Beirut's southern suburbs]," said a statement. Hizbullah dismissed as false claims made by the Israeli Army that the strike targeted a bunker.

"The building which Israel used 23 tons of explosives on was a mosque," it said.

The bombardment of the suburbs resumed Thursday afternoon as Israeli attack helicopters targeted the area's empty streets and buildings.

The flow of displaced Lebanese also continued Thursday, as residents of Southern towns and villages, under constant attack by Israel, continued to pour into Sidon.

Eyewitnesses said that convoys of hundreds of families "crammed in cars and buses, starting to arrive in Sidon and its suburbs during the early hours Thursday."

Malek Abdul-Khaliq, the governor of the South, and representatives from the Higher Relief Committee distributed 4,000 food portions and aid to the displaced Thursday, in collaboration with the army.

The Hariri Foundation has also provided the displaced with 7,000 food portions, 2,000 mattresses and 3,000 blankets over the past week.

The UN and several humanitarian organizations have estimated that some 500,000 Lebanese have been displaced by the Israeli assault.

The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees said Thursday that the situation for civilians in the South "is increasingly critical due to Israeli raids."

Sven Berthelsen told the Danish news agency Ritzau from Beirut that "the situation is serious and is deteriorating every day.

"They are starting to lose electricity, and water pumps are working less and less," he added. "Very few basic foodstuffs are getting to this zone."

In the absence of safe passage guarantees from Israel, UNRWA is unable to send aid to the region. UNICEF, the WHO and the UNHCR are facing the same dilemma.

Other NGOs are working on the ground to help the displaced but their numbers are increasing and the offerings the NGOs have are insufficient, a Daily Star reporter observed.

Separately, the Lebanese Higher Relief Commission said that at least 30 houses had been completely destroyed since Israel launched its attacks, 1,000 residences damaged, 20 bridges demolished and five gas stations burned in the Bekaa district.

Beyrouth 21-07-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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