Israel, Hezbollah Trade Attacks Amid Diplomatic Efforts
BEIRUT, Lebanon – One Israeli was killed and several others wounded in a new barrage of rockets fired across the border by Hezbollah after Israeli warplanes struck an army base outside Beirut Tuesday, casting a shadow over diplomatic efforts aimed at stemming the violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a U.N. delegation that Israel would continue its offensive against Hezbollah until the guerrilla group released captured soldiers and Israeli citizens were safe from attacks.
The Israeli attack on a Lebanese army base in Kfar Chima, left 11 soldiers dead and 35 wounded, the Lebanese military said. The base is in an area next to Hezbollah targets in southern Beirut that have been frequently hit by Israeli warplanes in recent days.
Israel gave no indication why the base was hit, but Lebanese media suggested Israel may be trying to prevent the quick repair of previously destroyed bridges and roads.
The Lebanese army has largely stayed out of the fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israel, confining itself to firing anti-aircraft guns at the Israeli planes. But Israeli jets have often struck Lebanese army positions.
At least five people also were killed when a bomb hit a house in the village of Aitaroun, near the border with Israel, witnesses said. Israeli warplanes also fired four missiles on the eastern city of Baalbek, wounding four, and southern Beirut — both Hezbollah strongholds. Plumes of black smoke rose over the capital's southern suburbs.
Israeli planes also attacked four trucks — apparently part of a new tactic of targeting trucks Israel suspects are carrying Hezbollah missiles. One of the hits killed a Jordanian in a nearby car on a mountain road used to travel to and from Syria.
The Islamic militant group fired rockets that knocked down a three-story house in northern Israel and later killed one Israeli and wounded several others in the town of Nahariya, Israeli officials said.
Rockets also struck Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, for the third day in a row, falling near the port and a railway depot, but no casualties were immediately reported. Eight people were killed in an attack on Haifa on Sunday.
Tuesday's deaths raised the toll from seven days of fighting to at least 226 people killed in Lebanon and 25 in Israel.
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The crisis began on June 25 when Hamas-linked militants in the Gaza Strip carried out a cross-border attack on a military outpost in Israel, killing two soldiers and capturing one. Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas joined the fray in July, attacking a military patrol on the border in northern Israel, killing three soldiers and capturing two. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have said the two attacks were not related.
An Israeli Cabinet minister, Avi Dichter, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Israel may consider a prisoner swap with Lebanon to win the release of two soldiers captured by Hezbollah, but only after its military operation is complete.
"If one of the ways to bring home the soldiers will be negotiations on the possibility of releasing Lebanese prisoners I think the day will come when we will also have to consider this," the public security minister told Israel's Army Radio.
Dichter also said efforts to gain the release of the soldier being held by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza and the two being held by Hezbollah were not connected to one another.
Hezbollah's patron Iran has said a cease-fire and prisoner exchange would be acceptable and fair.
• CountryWatch: Israel | Lebanon | Syria | Iran
Calls for an international stabilization force appeared to gain momentum, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan saying it must be bigger and better armed than the current U.N. peacekeeping force of about 2,000 that has failed to stop attacks from southern Lebanon.
The current U.N. force in South Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, was created in 1978 to boost the Beirut government's authority there, but it proved to be powerless. Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, Annan said a new U.N. force would have "different capabilities," suggesting a much more powerful military presence.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gave a tacit endorsement for the idea, which her country has opposed. Livni said it could temporarily help the Lebanese army enforce a cease-fire, but she stressed that Israel would continue military operations until its goals were achieved.
Livni also indicated that Israel could agree to put off the disarmament of Hezbollah, provided that Lebanon immediately deploy its own troops along the border to prevent rocket attacks. In recent days, Israeli officials have sent conflicting signals about whether Israel would demand Hezbollah's disarmament as a condition for a cease-fire, along with the release of two captured soldiers and the deployment of Lebanon's army in the border area.
"We are beginning a diplomatic process alongside the military operation that will continue," Livni said after meeting with a U.N. delegation in Jerusalem. "The diplomatic process is not meant to shorten the window of time of the army's operation but rather is meant to be an extension of it and to prevent a need for future military operations."
Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, the head of the Israeli army's northern command, meanwhile, warned that the campaign against Hezbelloh would take more time.
"It could take days, it could take weeks," he told Israeli Army Radio. "I think that we should assume that it will take a few more weeks."
• A brief history of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said talks are needed to forge an agreement that would end violence in the Middle East — though he offered no specifics Tuesday on how to bring any of the parties to the bargaining table. Blair's office said the prime minister believed that any cease-fire would have to include halting Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel and releasing two captured Israeli soldiers.
"Unless there is some negotiated process, then we're not going to be able to get a cessation of hostilities," Blair told reporters during a news conference with visiting Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
That was followed by a warning Tuesday from Iranian parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, who said no part of Israel is safe from Hezbollah rockets. However, he is not among the most influential power brokers in the regime.
"The towns you have built in northern Palestine (Israel) are within the range of the brave Lebanese children. No part of Israel will be safe," he told thousands of anti-Israel demonstrators in Tehran.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.