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French Version

26 july : Israel pounds Beirut suburbs, claims capture of Bint Jbeil

Israel pounded 10 buildings in the southern suburbs of Beirut following a Hizbullah salvo of rockets on Haifa Tuesday, as an Israeli Army statement claimed the fall of the largest border town, Bint Jbeil.

After two days of relative calm, Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hizbullah stronghold, were once again targeted by Israel in an attack which destroyed 10 buildings.

Further south, heavy clashes between Israel and Hizbullah fighters continued in the village of Maroun al-Ras and the outskirts of Bint Jbeil.

Claiming that Bint Jbeil is a major Hizbullah center, Israel's army said tanks and troops had sealed off the town and were engaged in sporadic firefights with its defenders.

"The intention is not to occupy Bint Jbeil, it's a limited operation," Brigadier-General Ido Nehushtan told Reuters. "In the last 24 hours we killed roughly 20 to 30 terrorists."

Hizbullah said five of its fighters had been killed over the past day, but did not say where. The group said in a statement that fighting with Israeli forces continued on Bint Jbeil's outskirts and in the surrounding area.

The Israelis said they secured the town by nightfall.

"Beit Jbeil is in our hands," General Alon Friedman, one of Israel's top commanders for its northern region, told Army Radio. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Sources in the foreign observer force UNIFIL said it was difficult to know which side controlled which parts of the town and that some civilians were feared trapped by the crossfire.

An Israeli Army spokesperson said Tuesday that an Israeli soldier died in clashes in Maroun al-Ras.

Hizbullah had issued a statement late Monday saying that its fighters managed to stand in the face of more than 350 Israeli soldiers from an elite unit, warplanes and tanks for the past five days.

The statement added that the Israeli Army lost a helicopter, five Merkava tanks; four soldiers and nine others were wounded, it said.

The Israelis said they believe that up to 200 Hizbullah fighters were believed to be defending Bint Jbeil, which lies about 4 kilometers north of the border.

Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, Israeli military chief of operations, said between 100 and 200 Hizbullah fighters were fortified inside the town, while much of the civilian population had fled.

Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV reported Monday that the fighters were mounting a strong defense against elite Israeli troops who were trying to advance under "heavy bombardment."

Outlining the scope of the Israeli campaign for the first time, a senior army commander said Israel would only encircle Lebanese towns and villages near the border but did not plan a deeper push into the country.

"The intention is to deal with the Hizbullah infrastructure that is within reach," Col. Hemi Livni, who commands Israeli troops in the western sector of southern Lebanon, told Israel's Army Radio.

Meanwhile, Israeli attacks on Lebanon claimed the lives of at least 10 civilians, six of whom died in an air raid on a marketplace in the South.

Israeli warplanes raided Southern Lebanese towns and pounded the Bekaa and the Chouf areas, and committed a new massacre in the Southern town of Nabatiyeh, where six people from the Hamza family, Saad Hamza and his wife and children, were killed in attack on their home.

At least 400 civilians have been killed in the Israeli offensive on Lebanon, not including the six people who perished in Tuesday's air strike.

Twenty Lebanese Army soldiers also have died in the fighting, and Hizbullah has reported 27 deaths, including the five on Tuesday.

An ambulance belonging to the Islamic Scouts miraculously escaped an Israeli missile as it was transporting the wounded in Nabatiyeh.

Israeli warships also forbade a French ship loaded with humanitarian aid from reaching a port in Lebanon, according to media reports.

Israeli gunboats also fired warning shots at a Turkish ferry that was helping evacuate Australians from Lebanon and held it for several hours, Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday.

With no end in sight to warfare, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned that the Jewish state could establish its own security zone in South Lebanon if multinational troops were not deployed.

A 15-year-old Arab-Israeli girl was killed after a rocket hit her house in a village in northern Israel as more than a dozen rockets fired by Hizbullah from Lebanon pummelled the northern port of Haifa, wounding at least five people.

Two soldiers were also killed in fighting Monday, bringing to 42 the toll of Israelis killed, 24 servicemen and 18 civilians.

Hizbullah's statements on Tuesday said that the group had attacked several Israeli settlements including Kirmaeil, Kiryat Shmona, Safad, and Haifa.

Beirut 26-07-2006
The Daily Star

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