|Israeli Bombardment Unabated Amid Lack of Diplomatic Progress
|Israeli bombardment pummeled Lebanon Wednesday as a high-ranking U.S. State Department official arrived on a surprise visit to Beirut amid intense but slow diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the four-week conflict.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said after meeting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch that there was still no progress in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, additional bodies were pulled out from under the rubble of a building in Beirut's southern district of Shiah, destroyed Monday by an Israeli airstrike, raising the death toll to 41, security officials said. The number of wounded in that attack are 61, they added.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said that giving up on efforts for an immediate ceasefire would be "the most immoral of solutions," while implicitly criticizing U.S. reservations about pushing for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the country.
As diplomats failed to come to terms, Israel intensified its bombardment of the south, particularly towns and villages near the port city of Tyre.
Early morning airstrikes targeted the Ain al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon killing two people and wounding 15. Air raids on the home of a Hizbullah political member in the Bekaa Valley town of Mashghara killed him, his wife and five children.
Also in the Bekaa, an airstrike cut the main Baalbeck-Homs road where it runs near the village of Qaa, severing one of the few remaining links connecting the country with the outside world.
In Beirut, Saniora told reporters there were contacts on several fronts to end the violence but "there is nothing new so far."
Asked if he expects the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution on Wednesday, he said "I don't expect a resolution will be issued today or tomorrow."
Welch also held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri.
Lebanon, backed by Arab countries, wants a U.N. draft resolution aimed at ending the conflict to call for an immediate ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south. It also wants an agreement to put the disputed Shabaa Farms area on the Lebanon-Syria-Israel border under U.N. jurisdiction.
Chirac, speaking at a news conference in southern France after an urgent meeting with three Cabinet ministers, said the U.N. text should take into account Lebanese and Arab demands for changes -- but did not specify which ones.
Paris -- which has historic ties to Lebanon and the Arab world and could lead a proposed multinational peacekeeping force to back up a ceasefire -- has sought to soothe Lebanese and Arab concerns about the draft resolution. The United States and France appear to be at odds over how to respond to Lebanese and Arab demands for changes.
"Our objective is to achieve a cessation of fighting," Chirac said, calling that France's "absolute priority."
Also Wednesday, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets over Beirut and Tyre criticizing Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, saying he was "playing with fire" and that the Lebanese people were "paying the price."
Hizbullah issued a statement saying the group killed or wounded 10 Israeli soldiers and destroyed a tank as it advanced toward the village of Qantara in the south. The Israeli army said 15 soldiers were wounded in overnight clashes.
Another statement on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV said guerrillas fired a barrage of Khaibar-1 rockets at Beit Shean, deep inside Israel, in response to "Zionist aggression and massacres against unarmed civilians." But Palestinian security officials and witnesses said five Hizbullah rockets landed in the West Bank town of Arabani, about 15 kilometers from Beit Shean.
Israeli troops landed by helicopter around 4 a.m. in the village of Kharayeb, southeast of Sidon, and searched three houses there, Mayor Hatem Akkoush and security officials said. Their sniffer dogs bit one resident, who was hospitalized.