August 10, 2006

Hizbollah fights Israeli push

By Karamallah Daher

MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (Reuters) - Hizbollah guerrillas fought
Israeli troops who seized a key town in southeast Lebanon on
Thursday, and France said a breakthrough could come soon in
diplomatic efforts to end the four-week-old war.

Israel said plans for a deeper ground assault into southern
Lebanon were on hold to give diplomacy a chance.

"Things are moving in New York today. I hope they move even
more quickly and in the hours to come," French Foreign Minister
Philippe Douste-Blazyhe told reporters. "We expect, from one
moment to the next, an accord in New York."

Hizbollah fired nearly 70 rockets into Israel, killing a
woman and a toddler in an Israeli Arab village, medics said.
The army said an Israeli soldier was killed by an anti-tank
missile in fighting in southern Lebanon.

Israeli forces headed toward the southeastern town of Khiam
under cover of heavy artillery shelling and air strikes,
residents said. Infantry moved through the Christian towns of
Marjayoun and Qlaiah overnight and imposed a curfew.

The fighting intensified even though Israel said plans for
an expanded ground offensive, approved on Wednesday, had been
put on hold to allow more time for U.S.-led diplomatic efforts.

"Fifteen casualties in one day proves what price we could
pay if we do not try to make the most of the political move,"
Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said, referring to
Israeli military casualties on Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch paid another
visit to Jerusalem for what diplomats described as a last-ditch
push for a deal on a resolution. He visited Beirut on

Diplomats said U.S. and Israeli officials were discussing
what they described as a "consecutive ceasefire" under which
Israeli military operations would be scaled back in stages when
Lebanese troops and more foreign soldiers begin deploying.

A Lebanese political source also said a revised U.N.
resolution was likely to include a "progressive" withdrawal.

A deal has been delayed because of divisions between the
United States and France over when Israeli troops would leave.

Lebanon wants an immediate ceasefire and a swift Israeli
withdrawal. Israel says it will fight on until foreign troops
and the Lebanese army move in -- a stance backed by Washington,
which fears a security vacuum that could let Hizbollah regroup.

France, which may lead the foreign force, does not want it
to deploy before a ceasefire and a political agreement.


The conflict has created an acute humanitarian crisis,
especially for an estimated 10,000 people trapped in south
Lebanon, where aid agencies said hospitals were running out of
food, fuel and other supplies.

The U.N. World Food Program urged both sides to stop
fighting, saying relief efforts were now facing paralysis.

"Above all, we require a cessation of hostilities by both
sides to allow humanitarian aid through," Zlatan Milisic, WFP
emergency coordinator in Lebanon, said in a statement.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland also said a
ceasefire was of critical importance.

"It's a disgrace really, because the parties to the
conflict, the Hizbollah and the Israelis, could give us access
in a heartbeat, and then we could help 120,000 people in
southern Lebanon," he told a news conference in Geneva.

The Israeli infantry advance toward Khiam was followed by
tanks that drew intense Hizbollah fire. "I can see two tanks
burning some 500 meters from Marjayoun," one resident said.

A third tank arrived later and removed several casualties,
he said, adding that Hizbollah fighters were raining rocket and
mortar fire on the Israeli force between Marjayoun and Khiam.


The war has cost the lives of at least 1,011 people in
Lebanon and 122 Israelis.

Israeli leaflets dropped on Beirut told people in the
crowded Shiyah, Burj al-Barajneh and Hay al-Sulloum districts
to leave or be bombed. The Shi'ite suburbs have already been
heavily hit. Hundreds of residents fled the area, most moving
to a football stadium in a Christian town north of Beirut.

Israeli Brigadier-General Ido Nehushtan said 50 Hizbollah
fighters had been killed in Wednesday's fighting, bringing the
guerrilla death toll in the conflict to "between 400 and 500."

Lebanese security sources estimate Hizbollah's losses at
about 100. Hizbollah has acknowledged only about 60 dead.

Herzog made clear a push by ground forces to the Litani
River, some 20 km (13 miles) inside Lebanon, remained an

An Israeli air raid killed a motorcyclist near Tyre on
Thursday. Another strike killed a civilian in the Bekaa Valley.

Hours before the overnight Israeli advance, Hizbollah's
chief vowed to turn the south into a graveyard for the

But for the first time, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said
Hizbollah backed a Lebanese government decision to send 15,000
troops to the border if that would promote a peaceful solution.

Hizbollah, which has controlled the south since Israeli
occupation troops left in 2000, has long resisted international
pressure on Lebanon to deploy the army to the region.

(Additional reporting by Beirut, Jerusalem, Paris and Cairo