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French Version

Hizbullah gives government negotiation power

Israeli warplanes continued their bombardment of Lebanon on Sunday, killing at least eight and wounding 45, as Hizbullah gave the Lebanese government the green light to negotiate on its behalf for a prisoner swap with Israel.

Any swap would include the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah in a cross-border raid on July 12, and Lebanese and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails.

"The Lebanese government will lead the exchange through the intermediary of a third party. This has been accepted by Hizbullah," Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday.

It was not immediately known who the third party would be.

Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Sunday that the two Israeli soldiers were "in good health" and called on "the United Nations or any third friendly party to engage in discussions of a prisoners' exchange."

"Germany has played an important and prominent role between Lebanon and Israel in the past, and it can play a similar role now," Salloukh said after a meeting with Peter Witteg,

the head of international affairs at Germany's Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile the Israeli offensive continued for the 12th straight day, bringing the overall death toll to at least 380 with over 1,000 wounded, according to Lebanese authorities.

A Lebanese press photographer, Layal Najib, 23, was also killed when an Israeli missile struck near her car on the road between the villages of Qana and Siddiqine. Najib worked at Al-Jaras (The Bell) magazine and was also a freelance photographer for AFP and several other news outlets.

Israel on Saturday attacked telecommunications installations in the North of Lebanon, killing a technician with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Suleiman Chidiac, and wounding two others. The station's signal was cut in several areas across the country.

The destroyed relay stations were used by TeleLiban, LBCI and Future TV, and several radio stations.

Israeli air strikes also hit a mini-bus carrying 16 people fleeing the village of Tairi as it worked its way through the mountains from the Southern port city of Tyre.

A missile hit the bus near the village of Yaatar, killing three and wounding the rest of the passengers, who were taken to hospitals in Tyre.

The Israeli military had told residents of Tairi and 12 other nearby villages Saturday to evacuate by 7 p.m. The villages form a corridor about 6 kilometers wide and 18 kilometers deep, believed to be the "buffer zone" desired by Israel.

At least four other people were killed by Israeli strikes in the South, Lebanese television reported, but the deaths could not be confirmed.

Some 45 people were wounded in Israeli air raids that targeted villages and towns around Tyre on Sunday, security and hospital officials said.

Israeli warplanes also targeted Hizbullah strongholds in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

On Sunday, Israel hit the Southern port city of Sidon for the first time, destroying a religious complex linked to Hizbullah and wounding four people. More than 5,000 people have sought refuge in the city from other Southern villages. Four people were wounded in the strike.

Israel also targeted Hizbullah's power base in the Bekaa Valley, hitting three factories, a house and bridges and roads. The air strikes ignited large fires, killed at least one civilian and wounded two others.

Three rescuers from the Civil Defense personnel of the Islamic Scout Mission, an association affiliated with the Amal Movement, were wounded after Israeli air raids struck their ambulance as it transported wounded civilians to nearby hospitals, according to Hassan Hamdan, the association's official in the South.

"After the rescuers succeeded in crossing the fields and arrived in Bourj Rahal, Israeli warplanes launched missiles, leaving three of them wounded," he added.

Israeli troops continued to hold a Lebanese border village that they battled their way into the day before, but did not appear to be advancing, Lebanese security officials said. But warplanes and artillery were battering areas across the South.

Hizbullah confirmed on Sunday that Israeli forces had occupied a key Lebanese frontier village and said three of its fighters had been killed there.

"The enemy is deceiving its own people and the world by presenting the occupation of Maroun al-Ras as a great military achievement," a Hizbullah statement said. "An army using its elite forces and tanks backed by its air force that can enter a frontier village only after days of fighting ... is a defeated and useless army."

"Our steadfast fighters have presented through the Maroun al-Ras confrontations and the losses of the enemy - in troops, tanks and helicopters - an example of what the confrontations will be in every town, village and position," it said.

A spokesman for UN peacekeepers stationed along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel confirmed for AFP the Israeli advance.

"Israeli troops and tanks are now inside Maroun al-Ras," said UNIFIL adviser Milos Strugar.

In the latest salvo into Israel, Hizbullah launched rocket attacks across northern Israel, including Haifa. Some of the rockets slammed into a house, an apartment building and a major road, killing at least two people, Israeli police said.

With the attacks Sunday, a total of 17 civilians have been killed by Hizbullah rockets over the past 12 days and 19 Israeli soldiers in fighting in Lebanon.

Beirut 24-07-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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