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French Version

Hizbullah, Israel fight 'house-to-house'

Hizbullah, Israel fight 'house-to-house'

Hizbullah engaged in fierce fighting with Israeli forces in South Lebanon Tuesday as the Jewish state's premier said his country's offensive has "changed the face of the Middle East."

If the military operation would end today, we could even say today with certainty that the face of the Middle East has changed," Ehud Olmert said Tuesday at a graduation ceremony at the National Security College at the Glilot military base just north of Tel Aviv.

Olmert vowed that Hizbullah would no longer be a threat to Israel and Israel will only agree to a cease-fire when "conditions on the ground will be different from those that led to the outbreak of the war."

This came after Israel's Security Cabinet gave the army a green light to send ground forces up to 30 kilometers into Lebanon. Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the expanded push into South Lebanon is aimed at paving the way for the deployment of an international force in the area.

"Hizbullah will no longer be able to move about freely in South Lebanon," Peretz said. "The coming days are decisive and will determine if a terrorist organization will again threaten Israel's back."

The minister also said Israel would target "every vehicle carrying weapons from Syria into Lebanon," but denied the Jewish state was trying to provoke a war with Syria.

Police and UN sources said the Israeli Army was engaged in four separate incursions across its border with Lebanon in the three-week-old offensive.

Intense clashes raged for the third consecutive day in the regions of Taibeh, Adaysseh and Kfar Kila, 35 kilometers east of Tyre, Lebanese police told The Daily Star.

Israeli troops, who entered the area Sunday, had made a small advance of about 1 kilometer, they said.

A government official in Jerusalem said troops had the authority to push up to 30 kilometers into Lebanon.

The Israeli Army said it had killed 20 Hizbullah fighters in South Lebanon over the past 48 hours in Taibeh and Adaysseh.

Isaac Herzog, a member of Israel's Security Cabinet, said the Israeli Army has killed 400 Hizbullah fighters since fighting began on July 12.

Milos Strugar, spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, said Israeli forces entered South Lebanon early Tuesday afternoon in the area of Aita ash-Shaab, near the border.

A Hizbullah statement spoke of "house-to-house" fighting in Aita al-Shaab, and claimed that resistance fighters had destroyed an Israeli tank and a bulldozer.

Al-Arabiyya television channel said three Israeli soldiers had been killed in the village.

The same statement said Hizbullah fighters had forced Israeli soldiers to retreat from the village. An Israeli Army spokesman denied the claim.

Al-Manar television station said that four Hizbullah fighters died in the battles.

An Israeli Army spokesman said at least one soldier was wounded near Taibeh. The army also warned residents of several villages north of the Litani River, up to 30 kilometers from the border, to leave their homes ahead of an offensive there, an army spokeswoman said.

The threat of even more intense military action and a 48-hour suspension in air raids in the South prompted many remaining Southerners to flee the area, with a mass exodus of people reported from Tyre.

Despite the promised halt in air strikes, Israeli warplanes staged a series of air strikes during the night and early Tuesday, Lebanese police said.

The suspension in the South was set to expire at 2 a.m. Wednesday local time. Israeli Trade Minister Eli Yishai said the air force would operate "with all its power and all of its forces" the moment the 48 hours expired.

Six air raids were carried out along the banks of the Litani, three more in the Bekaa region to the east and an additional six strikes on villages near Tyre.

A mother and her two daughters were killed in a separate air strike that destroyed their home in the mountain village of Louaize. Three other civilians were wounded in that attack.

At least 828 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, have been killed and 3,200 wounded over the last three weeks, the Higher Relief Committee said on Tuesday. Fifty-one Israelis have also been killed, most of them soldiers.

Beirut 02-08-2006
The Daily Star

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