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Hezbollah Launches Deep Rocket Strike on Israel

Hezbollah launched its deepest rocket strike inside Israel to date Friday, launching three rockets that hit near a town 50 miles south of the Lebanese border, police said.

The deep rocket attack came as Lebanese security officials said that an Israeli airstrike killed at least 28 civilian workers who were loading vegetables onto trucks near the Syrian border. Israeli officials said two buildings in the area were targeted because they were believed to be weapons storage depots.

In earlier strikes, Israeli warplanes destroyed four key bridges on Lebanon's last untouched highway, severing the country's remaining link to Syria.

Meanwhile, Israel confirmed three soldiers were killed in fighting along the border as its troops pressed ahead with the goal to reach the Litani River to establish a Hezbollah-free buffer zone.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian and close ally of Hezbollah, charged that Israel is trying to pressure Lebanon to accept its conditions for a cease-fire, which include Hezbollah's disarmament and ouster from a swath of south Lebanon.

"The Israeli enemy's bombing of bridges and roads is aimed at tightening the blockade on the Lebanese, cutting communications between them and starving them," Lahoud said.

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He blamed the new raids on Israel's failure to win quick victory in the south, where Israeli soldiers have been mired in ground battles with Hezbollah guerrillas for several days.

An Israeli army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said Israel targeted the bridges to stop the flow of weapons from Syria.

In Israel, no casualties were immediately reported in the Hezbollah attack near the town of Hadera, about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv, the nation's commercial center. Over 200 rockets hit Israel Friday, police said.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to hit Tel Aviv if Israeli warplanes hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Israeli resumed air strikes on Beirut Thursday, after first targeting the city at the beginning of the war.

Hezbollah is believed to have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, but such an attack would likely trigger a massive Israeli response.

More Israeli airstrikes flattened two southern Lebanese houses Friday and more than 50 people were buried in the rubble, security officials and the state news agency said.

The number of dead was not immediately known.

Five Lebanese civilians were killed and 19 wounded in the Israeli airstrikes north of the capital, in Christian areas where Hezbollah has little support or presence, including the picturesque coastal resort of Jounieh.

In separate air raids near Beirut's airport and southern suburbs, a Lebanese soldier was killed and two soldiers and four civilians were wounded, security officials and witnesses said. The predominantly Shiite Muslim sector is largely controlled by Hezbollah guerrillas. Israel said Hezbollah facilities and a Hamas office were targeted.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in a southern Lebanese village where the militant group had been launching rockets, the army said. It later said another soldier had died.

International aid agencies said Friday said the road bombing would slow down aid shipments to needy civilians in central Lebanon and the coastline around the capital, Beirut, where the bulk of the population lives.

Border crossings in the east have been shut by airstrikes. Israel has imposed a naval blockade and has hit the international airport to seal off Lebanon's sea and airspace.

"This is Lebanon's umbilical cord," Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Program told The Associated Press. "This (road) has been the only way for us to bring in aid. We really need to find other ways to bring relief in."

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The European Union said Israel and Hezbollah must guarantee the safety of aid workers if it is to continue helping people made homeless by the fighting.

Emergencies services at the al-Qusair National Hospital on the Lebanese-Syrian border and the National Hospital in the Syrian city of Homs said at least 28 people were killed in the farm attack near al-Qaa, a town about six miles from a Hezbollah stronghold.

Ali Yaghi, a Lebanese civil defense official at the scene, said at least 12 workers were wounded and some were likely buried under rubble.

Syria's official news agency reported that 33 were killed, 23 of them Syrians. That toll included 18 men, 2 elderly women and 3 young girls, it said, reporting 10 wounded.

The Israeli army said it had attacked two buildings where it suspected weapons were being stored, and it was checking reports that it had hit a vegetable storehouse and civilians.

More than three weeks into the fighting, six Israeli brigades — or roughly 10,000 troops — were locked in battle with hundreds of Hezbollah guerrillas in about 20 towns and villages in south Lebanon.

Hezbollah's leader offered to stop attacking if Israel ends its airstrikes.

Israel's United Nations ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's offer of a truce was "a sign of weakness ... and he may be looking for a way out."

Gillerman warned against a threat by Nasrallah to launch rockets on Israel's commercial center, Tel Aviv.

"We are ready for it, and I am sure that he (Nasrallah), as well as his sponsors, realize the consequences of doing something as unimaginable and crazy as that," the Israeli ambassador said in a TV interview.

The offensive in Lebanon began after another cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas who captured two Israeli soldiers.

According to an Associated Press count, at least 530 Lebanese have been killed, including 454 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry; 26 Lebanese soldiers; and at least 50 Hezbollah guerrillas. That figure does not include some Friday attacks as the death toll could not be verified.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said that 1 million people — or about a quarter of Lebanon's population — had fled the fighting.

Seventy-five Israelis have been killed — 44 soldiers and 31 civilians. More than 300,000 Israelis have fled their homes in the north, Israeli officials said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the United States and France have "come a long way" in negotiating a Security Council resolution that calls for an immediate end to Middle East hostilities,said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed support Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon as the first phase in ending the conflict. It was the most concrete signal yet that the U.S. may be willing to compromise on the stalemate over how to end the fighting.

Israel, backed by the United States, has rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire, saying it wants an international force or the Lebanese army to deploy in southern Lebanon to prevent future Hezbollah attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.