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French Version

Israel builds up forces for expected ground invasion of South

The Israeli military said it was holding corpses of Hizbullah fighters killed in clashes along the border Friday - and had killed a resistance leader during other raids on Lebanon.

The claims could not be independently confirmed, but a Hizbullah statement said two of its fighters had died during clashes Friday in the South.

Israel also claimed to have killed nearly 100 Hizbullah fighters over the past 10 days.

"Hizbullah is not revealing the real extent of its casualties," Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz told reporters.

Halutz said at least 13 Hizbullah guerrillas were killed Thursday alone in clashes just inside Lebanon. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in that fighting.

Hizbullah has said eight of its fighters have been killed since July 12, when the conflict began.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army called up a rapid deployment division of 5,000 soldiers Friday as security sources said throngs of Israeli tanks and military forces were massed along the border .

Friday saw 12 more civilian deaths, 50 wounded and 12 reported missing. Israeli artillery, fighter-bombers and warships continued their bombardment of the South, the Bekaa and Mount Lebanon.

At least 10 civilians were buried under rubble in the Southern town of Aitaroun after Israeli warplanes targeted a residential building. Witnesses reported hearing cries for help.

A UN observation post on the border was also hit Friday.

The facility was severely damaged but no casualties were reported as the Ghanaian troops manning the post were in bomb shelters at the time, a UN official said.

The Israeli Army said Hizbullah rockets hit the post, but the UN officer said it was an artillery shell fired from Israel.

A UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) statement said Hizbullah "fired rockets from various locations, and the Israeli forces continued the shelling and aerial bombardment of the South ... There were seven incidents of firing close to UN positions during the past 24 hours, with three positions suffering direct hits from the Israeli side."

Israeli soldiers on Wednesday shot at members of a joint UN-Lebanese force along the border. The army said later the shooting had been a mistake.

Hizbullah fighters fired two salvos of rockets at the port of Haifa Friday, wounding five people and damaging shops and office buildings, according to the Israeli Army.

Baabda was attacked by Israeli warplanes early Friday, killing one civilian and severely wounding another. The municipality building was also damaged in the air strike.

In the Bekaa Valley, eight more air strikes on the Mdeirij bridge, part of the main Beirut-Damascus highway, finally toppled the Middle East's tallest bridge on Friday after daily attacks since July 12.

Israeli warplanes also dropped leaflets over several Southern towns telling residents to flee the area ahead of promised attacks.

Towns in the Chouf, Damour and Naameh regions were also bombarded Friday, leaving one civilian dead and one wounded.

The bodies of 30 Lebanese remained under rubble in the Southern town of Srifa. The civilians have been trapped since three residential buildings were targeted by air strikes Wednesday. Aid and Civil Defense workers have not been able to reach the town due to heavy Israeli bombing.

Since the launch of Israel's offensive on July 12 after the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a Hizbullah raid and death of three more, 15 Israeli civilians and 18 soldiers have been killed in rocket attacks and clashes with Hizbullah. The figures in Lebanon now show 340 civilian dead, over 1,100 wounded and nearly 1 million displaced.

Friday also saw the burial of 105 Lebanese civilians in a mass grave in Tyre. The gruesome burial was a temporary solution to relieve the ancient port city's overflowing morgue.

Separately, Lebanese security sources said towns along the border had been targeted by 2,500 bombs, missiles, rockets and shells between Thursday night and dawn Friday.

The sources also accused Israel of using cluster bombs in an attack on the Southern town of Blida. The sources added that phosphorous and cluster munitions were also on Al-Orqoub, Hasbayya, Ramta, Zaaourta, Amfit and other border villages.

Israeli shelling also destroyed a pharmaceutical plant Tyre.

Many hospitals are complaining of a shortage of necessary materials due to the rising number of wounded and the siege imposed on the country's land, sea and air routes.

Israel's envoy to the UN, Dan Guillerman, said Friday that Israel would allow humanitarian supplies into Lebanon. Gillerman said he expected a "corridor for food, medicine and other supplies" to be opened late Friday or early Saturday.

Gillerman said he met Thursday with UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, who is expected to head to the region in the coming days.

Elsewhere, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on Friday accused both Israel and Hizbullah of war crimes. The ICJ said Israel's "disproportionate and indiscriminate" use of force against civilian targets amounted to "collective punishment."

The Geneva-based organization called for an immediate halt to the violence and accused the international community of not doing enough to restrain Israeli actions in both Lebanon and Gaza.

A large protest against the war is expected in Tel Aviv on Saturday, the third of its kind since July 12.

Beirut 22-07-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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