JERUSALEM – Israeli aircraft and artillery units pounded Hezbollah targets in Lebanon Friday, killing up to 12 people. Hezbollah said it carried out a ground assault on Israeli troops in a Lebanese town and launched a new rocket, striking deep inside Israel.
U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland called Friday for a 72-hour truce between Israel and Hezbollah to evacuate civilians and deliver supplies to areas cut off by the fighting.
As the call for a voluntary truce came, a U.N. aid convoy arrived in the Lebanese town of Tyre.
Earlier, the U.N. announced the evacuation of personnel from posts along the Israeli-Lebanon border following the deaths of four unarmed observers by Israeli shelling earlier this week.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar television reported Friday that guerrillas fired a new rocket, called Khaibar-1, striking near the Israeli town of Afula, 10 miles south of Haifa. Israeli authorities reported that five rockets, including a new type that carried 100 pounds of explosives, landed harmlessly in fields outside Afula.
The strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that a new phase in the battle would begin with strikes beyond the Israeli city of Haifa.
Israeli officials said that in addition to the new rocket, 97 Hezbollah rockets were fired into Israel, including one that caused structural damage on a medical building in Nahariya. No casualties were reported in the attacks that also included strikes in the towns of Kiryat Shmona, Ma'alot, Karmiel and Safed.
On the 17th day of fighting, diplomatic efforts were emerging on several fronts as allies pressed Washington to speed up efforts to secure a cease-fire.
After meeting in Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bush called for a multinational force to be dispatched quickly to the region and said that they would work for a U.N. resolution to support it. (Full story)
In France, President Jacques Chirac said his country will press for the rapid adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, his office said. It cited the "deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Lebanon." France hoped to circulate a draft resolution in the coming days.
Israel said its warplanes hit 130 targets in Lebanon late Thursday and early Friday, including a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, where long-range rockets were stored and 57 Hezbollah structures, six missile launching sites and six communication facilities.
The bombardment — along with artillery pounding the south — was often hitting in populated areas and causing casualties
An airstrike flattened a house in the village of Hadatha, and six people inside were believed dead or wounded, the state news agency reported. Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said all six were dead.
Missiles fired by Israeli jets also destroyed three buildings in the village of Kfar Jouz near the market town of Nabatiyeh. A Jordanian was killed along with a Lebanese couple who died when their shelter collapsed on them from the blast, Lebanese security officials said.
The raid apparently targeted an apartment belonging to a Hezbollah activist.
Nine people — including children — were wounded in the blast, and the toll from the strike could rise. Civil defense teams were struggling in Kfar Jouz to rescue some people believed buried under the rubble of one of the buildings, a three-story structure, witnesses said.
Three women were killed in strikes on their homes in southern villages of Talouseh, Sheitiyeh and Bazouriyeh, the hometown of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, security officials said.
Israeli artillery also fired more than 40 shells at the village of Arnoun just outside Nabatiyeh, next to the strategic Crusader's Beaufort Castle, which has a commanding view of the border area, witnesses said.
A journalist and a driver were slightly wounded when Israeli artillery hit a convoy evacuating villagers from town of Naqoura on Friday.
Mohammed Naghawi, a Jordanian cameraman working for German TV channel N24, told The Associated Press by telephone that he and his driver Mohammed Haddad were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment of superficial injuries. The convoy consisted of about 35 vehicles.
At least 443 people have been killed in Lebanon since fighting broke out between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas, most of them Lebanese civilians, according to security officials. But Lebanon's health minister estimated Thursday that as many as Lebanese 600 civilians have been killed so far in the offensive.
Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting and 19 civilians were killed in Hezbollah's unyielding rocket attacks on Israel's northern towns, the army said.
The army said Friday that Israeli troops have killed about 200 Hezbollah guerrillas since fighting began more than two weeks ago. Hezbollah has reported only 35 casualties.
Israel launched its offensive in Lebanon on July 12, after Hezbollah guerrillas overran the border, killed three Israeli soldiers on patrol and captured two others.
This week has seen intense ground fighting in a small pocket in southeast Lebanese where Israeli troops have entered, centered around the town of Bint Jbail and the nearby town of Maroun al-Ras.
Israeli troops on Friday appeared to have pulled back from some positions around Bint Jbail, said a UNIFIL official, Richard Morczynski. He did not have details on the extent of pullback.
The town was the site of the worst Israeli casualties in a single battle of the campaign — nine soldiers killed on Wednesday.
Hezbollah said its guerrillas attacked Israeli troops in Maroun al-Ras, which was fully overrun by the Israelis last weekend after fierce fighting. Hezbollah said the attack inflicted casualties, but there was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.
"At exactly 1 p.m. (1000GMT), the Islamic Resistance staged a surprise attack on Israeli tanks and emplacements on Masoud hilltop and Maroun al-Ras with various kinds of weapons, inflicting confirmed casualties," Hezbollah said in a statement broadcast on the group's Al Manar TV.
Masoud hilltop is a ridge overlooking Bint Jbail, a town which Israeli troops began beseiging on Sunday but so far have not taken. The town has great symbolic importance for the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas. It has the largest Shiite community in the border area and was known as the "capital of the resistance" during Israel's 1982-2000 occupation because of its vehement support for Hezbollah.
Israeli forces also stepped up their defenses.
On Thursday, the military installed a Patriot interceptor missile battery north of Tel Aviv, saying it believes the area could be in range of missiles that Hezbollah has obtained from Syria, the army said. The Patriot system can intercept long-range missiles fired at Israel but not the short-range Katyusha rockets, hundreds of which have been fired by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.