BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah fired an enormous barrage of rockets at towns across northern Israel on Sunday, killing 10 people in the worst rocket attack on Israel since the violence began July 12, rescue services said.
Israel's Channel Two television reported that nine of those killed were reserve soldiers.
"It was a direct hit on a crowd of people," Dan Ronen, the chief of the northern police command, told Army Radio.
One of the rockets hit the northern town of Kfar Giladi, causing many of the injuries and deaths, rescue officials said. Army Radio said a synagogue was also hit.
Convoys of police and rescue vehicles raced to the town.
"This was the most difficult thing I could have imagined in my career. There are nine bodies here covered in blankets, around us cars are going up in flames," Army Radio reporter Hadas Shteif reported as she choked back tears. "On one side is the cemetery, on the other side are the nine young bodies waiting for burial."
A nearby forest burst into flames from the barrage and huge plumes of gray smoke rose into the air.
Witnesses reported the barrage was going on more than 15 minutes after it had begun. One rescue service reported at least two rockets directly hit homes.
The attack came after early Sunday morning Israeli airstrikes killed five people when Israeli aircraft bombed a house in the southern Lebanese village of Ansar, Lebanese security officials and Arab media said.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar television later reported that another body had been found, raising the toll to six, but officials could not immediately confirm that.
Al-Jazeera television reported three people dead in Naqoura, on the Mediterranean coast side of Lebanon's border with Israel. But security officials could confirm just one person killed there, when Israeli missiles slammed into a three-story house around 4 a.m. (0100GMT).
Ground fighting raged across swaths of south Lebanon as well on Sunday.
Al-Manar ran an urgent statement from Hezbollah saying guerrillas forced Israeli troops to retreat from the border village of Adaisse. Two Israeli tanks and two bulldozers were destroyed, and their crews were either killed or wounded, it said.
Witnesses said Israeli artillery shells were raining down on Kfar Kila, less than a kilometer from the Israeli border. Israel withdrew 10 tanks from the neighboring town of Taibeh, leaving three behind, al-Manar said.
Intense shelling was also reported Sunday morning in the Lebanese border village of Houla, and in villages along the Litani River, which runs east-west across south Lebanon.
Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the victims in Ansar were a man named Ibrahim Asie and four of his relatives. It was not immediately clear whether Asie had links to Hezbollah.
Four airstrikes hit Ansar Sunday morning, at 1 a.m. (2200GMT Saturday), 6 a.m. (0300GMT), 7 a.m. (0400GMT) and 10:30 a.m. (0730GMT), security officials and Lebanon's National News Agency said. Asie and his family were killed in the second one, and the third strike hit a road nearby as rescuers were pulling the bodies out of the rubble of the house, which was flattened, NNA reported.
Al-Manar reported eight people were wounded in the village, which lies about 25 kilometers (15.53 miles) north of the border, near the market town of Nabatiyeh.
Israeli warplanes destroyed a water purification station in the village of Jibsheet, as well as a Lebanese army vehicle in Ansar, security officials said.
Throughout Saturday, Israel and Hezbollah sharply intensified fighting with airstrikes, rocket attacks and brutal ground fighting — an apparent bid to inflict maximum mutual damage even as the United States and France agreed on a draft U.N. resolution calling for a halt to the violence.
Even if the U.N. Security Council adopts the resolution early next week as expected, the task of winning agreement from the warring parties portended a far more bumpy diplomatic road than the one already traveled.
As it became clear a U.S.-French agreement on the text was drawing near, Israeli-Hezbollah fighting grew particularly intense over the past few days.
Israeli commandos battled Hezbollah guerrillas in a dramatic raid on an apartment building in the southern port city of Tyre on Saturday, while warplanes blasted south Beirut. The fighting across Lebanon killed at least eight Lebanese and two Israeli soldiers, while a Hezbollah rocket volley killed three women in northern Israel.
Early Sunday, Israeli missiles killed five people in two houses in the village of Ansar, near the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, witnesses and Arab media said.
Shortly after the diplomatic agreement was announced on the 25th day of the conflict, a Hezbollah Cabinet minister said militant Shiite guerrillas would not stop fighting until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon. The draft resolution makes no such demand.
"We (will) abide by it on condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land. If they stay, we will not abide by it," said Mohammed Fneish, one of two Hezbollah members of the government.
Israeli officials said Israel, too, had no intention to end its offensive for the time being. Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel would not withdraw from a buffer zone in south Lebanon until an international force arrived.
"Even if it is passed, it is doubtful that Hezbollah will honor the resolution and halt its fire," Ramon told Israel's Army Radio. "Therefore we have to continue fighting, continue hitting anyone we can hit in Hezbollah, and I assume that as long as that goes on, Israel's position, diplomatically and militarily, will improve."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with senior ministers late Saturday. They approved continuation of the Lebanon offensive according to the present guidelines but did not discuss the draft U.N. resolution, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Lebanese government said it objected to portions of the U.S-French draft resolution and would demand that some provisions be amended.
"The government has objected to the U.S-French draft resolution. It has made amendments to some of the provisions and has sent them to Lebanon's U.N. representative," an aide to Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told The Associated Press late Saturday.
The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements to the media, insisted that the government's position did not amount to a flat rejection of the draft resolution.
As written, the resolution would be a difficult, if not impossible, pill for Hezbollah to swallow, particularly language calling for the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers captured by the guerrillas in a cross-border raid July 12. The hostage taking prompted the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon.
Hezbollah snatched the two soldiers to use them as bargaining tools for the release of Arab prisoners held by Israel, including three Lebanese. While the draft resolution directs Hezbollah to release the Israelis unconditionally it only encourages "efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel."
That language may prove the fundamental deal-breaker for Hezbollah, whose leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed eight days into the conflict never to release the two Israeli soldiers without a prisoner exchange even "if the whole universe comes (against us)."
In the past two days, Hezbollah fired 365 rockets into Israel, including the deepest strike of the conflict — on Hadera, some 50 miles south of the border. Six civilians were killed in the attacks.
Over the same period, Israel conducted as many as 170 airstrikes on targets in Lebanon, killing at least 45 people.
The Israeli army also said Hezbollah has fired some 3,000 rockets into northern Israel since fighting broke out July 12.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in the south of the country, known as UNIFIL, reported what it called "intense shelling and exchanges on the ground" along the common border. Israel has taken control of a band of territory a few miles deep right across the frontier.
Israel has resumed nightly airstrikes on Hezbollah strongholds in south Beirut, and on Friday struck in the Christian heartland north of the capital, rocketing bridges and severing the last major road link to Syria and the outside world.
In the most dramatic operation, Israeli commandos battled Hezbollah guerrillas in a pre-dawn raid on an apartment building in the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre. The raid was the latest Israeli commando operation deep inside Lebanese territory aimed at taking out Hezbollah positions.
Both Israel and Hezbollah claimed victory in the Tyre battle — with Israel claiming it was "very successful" in taking out a key guerrilla unit involved in firing long-range rockets into Israel — including one that hit Hadera.
Lebanese military and rescue workers said at least five Lebanese — including a soldier at a nearby checkpoint — were killed in the raid. The Israeli military reported eight soldiers wounded, two seriously.
Israeli jets continued pounding targets late Saturday and early Sunday with strikes near Tyre, southern market town of Nabatiyeh and two separate roads in the north of the country, both of them leading to Syria.
So far, at least 580 people have died in the fighting in Lebanon including 502 civilians, 28 members of the army and 50 Hezbollah guerrillas. Added to the total deaths were five Syrian farm workers killed in an Israel airstrike just inside the Lebanese border in the Bekaa Valley whose deaths were not counted when the attack occurred Friday. A total of seven civilians and one soldier were killed Saturday. Three Syrian farm workers wounded in the Israeli airstrike also died.
The Israeli military said late Saturday it had killed more than 400 Hezbollah guerrillas since the fighting began.
Seventy-nine Israelis have died, including 46 soldiers and 33 civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets. The latest deaths were three Israeli women in a direct hit on a house in an Arab village and one Israeli soldier killed in fighting with Hezbollah.