BOURJ AL-MULOUK, Lebanon – Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel killed eight civilians on Thursday as four Israeli soldiers were killed in ground operations inside Lebanon in the deadliest day of violence for Israel.
The Israeli casualties came as senior officials said Defense Minister Amir Peretz told top army officers to push ahead to the Litani River to secure an 18-mile buffer zone and leaflets were dropped in Beirut warning residents of three Shiite neighborhoods to flee.
In the town of Acre, three adults and a child were killed when a rocket hit a group of people standing on their balcony, Mayor Shimon Lankry told Israel's Channel 2 Television. In Maalot, three people were killed when a rocket struck a car, police said.
Since the fighting started, 67 Israelis have been killed, 40 of them soldiers slain in fighting and 27 of them civilians killed in rocket attacks.
More than 180 rockets, which cannot be guided like missiles, were fired across the border, with almost 100 of them being launched within one half-hour period, according to Israeli police. The barrage came a day after Hezbollah launched a record 210 rockets into Israel.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened in a televised speech Thursday to attack Tel Aviv if Beirut proper was hit by Israeli rockets. (Full story)
Earlier, Hezbollah said it won't agree to a cease-fire until Israeli troops leave Lebanon.
"Declaring a cease-fire is not the concern of the people of Lebanon as long as there is one Israeli soldier on Lebanese soil — even one meter [into Lebanon]," Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said in a live interview with Al-Jazeera television.
Three Israeli soldiers were killed when an anti-tank rocket hit their tank in Rajmil, the IDF said. Another soldier was killed and four wounded in heavy fighting near the town of Ayt a-Shab, according to the IDF.
In Lebanon, an Israeli missile slammed into a house in a border village early Thursday, killing a family of three, and airstrikes across the country's south wounded at least six people, Lebanese security officials said.
Another Lebanese woman was killed when a missile hit her house near the Christian town of Marjayoun, they said. The first missile attack occurred in the village of Taibeh, less than five kilometers from the Israeli border.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said more than 900 people had been killed and 3,000 injured in the fighting, though did not say whether the new figure — up from 548 confirmed dead — included those missing.
More than 1 million people — a quarter of Lebanon's population — had been displaced, he said, adding the fighting "is taking an enormous toll on human life and infrastructure, and has totally ravaged our country and shattered our economy."
Diplomacy Efforts in Progress
On the diplomatic front, France circulated a revised U.N. resolution calling for an immediate halt to Israeli-Hezbollah fighting and spelling out conditions for a permanent cease-fire.
The new draft reiterates France and other nations' call "for an immediate cessation of hostilities," and emphasizes "a lasting solution to the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon."
The conditions include: release of the two Israeli soldiers whose abduction sparked the current fighting; "settlement of the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel;" and marking the international borders of Lebanon, including in the disputed area known as Chebaa Farms.
On Thursday, Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi condemned the U.N. Security Council for not having the "moral courage to condemn Israel" as he opened an emergency session of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur. (Full story)
In Amman, Jordan, King Abdullah II lashed out at his U.S. and Israeli allies, saying in newspaper interviews Thursday that he was "enraged" by the war on Lebanon and that prolonged fighting has "weakened" moderates in the Mideast. (Full story)
Iran, which backs Hezbollah's actions in Lebanon, said the only solution Iranian solution to the Middle East crisis was to destroy Israel, state-media reported. (Full story)
The group Human Rights Watch and news organizations initially reported 54 or more civilian deaths in an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Qana, based on figures provided by Lebanese officials. But a re-examination of the incident Thursday indicated only 28 people died.
Human Rights Watch said it had discovered the discrepancy as part of a larger investigation of all civilian deaths in Lebanon. The bombardment of Qana and pictures of dead children pulled from the wreckage led to an international uproar and caused Israel to order a two-day cutback in airstrikes.
Three weeks into the conflict, six Israeli brigades or roughly 10,000 troops were locked in fighting with hundreds of Hezbollah guerrillas.
The Israeli army said its soldiers had taken up positions in or near 11 towns and villages across south Lebanon as they try to carve out a Hezbollah-free zone up to the Litani river ahead of what it hopes will be a speedy deployment of a multinational force there.
Most of the villages are close to the Israel-Lebanon border; the one deepest inside Lebanon, Majdel Zoun, is about four miles from the frontier. However, many tanks pushed even further north, controlling open areas from higher ground, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation.
Lebanese security officials said a missile crashed into a two-story house in the border village of Taibeh, killing a couple and their daughter.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar television reported that guerrillas also clashed with Israeli troops in the village, less than three miles from the border, destroying a tank and two bulldozers and injuring its crew members. The Israeli army said a tank had been lightly hit in clashes but that there were no casualties or serious damage.
In the first air raids on the Lebanese capital in almost a week, witnesses said at least four missiles hit the southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, a Shiite Muslim sector that has been repeatedly shelled by Israel since fighting began three weeks ago.
Lebanese television said the attacks targeted several buildings in a Hezbollah compound of Dahieh's al-Ruweis neighborhood. The compound, which includes a center for religious teaching, has been attacked in earlier raids and sustained sizable damage.
In the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, fighter jets struck an ambulance working for a local Muslim group, Lebanese security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the press.
Israeli warplanes also fired more than a dozen missiles at roads and suspected guerrilla hideouts in the southeastern town of Rashaya, Lebanese security officials said. They said the attacks were part of Israel's strategy to destroy Lebanese infrastructure so that people would not travel from one village to the other.
Other strikes hit targets near Lebanon's northern border with Syria overnight, Lebanese radio said. It was the second attack in the area in 24 hours, after a bridge linking the zone to the northern port of Tripoli was destroyed Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.