TYRE, Lebanon – Israeli commandos battled Hezbollah guerrillas in a raid on an apartment building in this southern port city Saturday, while warplanes blasted south Beirut. The fighting across the country killed at least eight Lebanese and an Israeli soldier, and a Hezbollah rocket volley killed three Israeli women.
In a sign of hope after days of desultory diplomacy, the United States and France reached an agreement on a Security Council resolution aimed at ending the fighting.
The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations" but would allow Israel to defend itself if attacked.
That language is a major victory for Israel, which has insisted it must have the right to respond if Hezbollah launches missiles against it.
Illustrating the difficulty it will be in getting the sides to agree to a cease-fire, Hezbollah Cabinet Minister Mohammed Fneish said after the announcement that his group would stop fighting, but only if Israel removed all troops from Lebanon.
"If they stay, we will not abide by it," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the fighting continued, and given the determination of both Hezbollah and Israel to look victorious when the conflict finally ends, the worst may still lay ahead. Hezbollah has threatened to rocket Tel Aviv, while Israel has indicated it might push farther into Lebanon in an all-out ground offensive, northward to the Litani River about 20 miles from the border.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with Lebanese officials in Beirut for talks focused on establishing a lasting political framework and an international force to support the Lebanese army in moving into the south.
He visited Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a prominent Shiite Muslim who has been negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah in the conflict.
"My meeting today was an important step to putting behind us forever the terrible violence witnessed in the past three weeks," Welch said after meeting with Saniora.
The raid in Tyre was the latest Israeli commando operation deep inside Lebanese territory aimed at taking out Hezbollah strongpoints even as heavy fighting raged closer to the border, where Israel is trying to push back guerrillas.
Both Israel and Hezbollah claimed victory in the Tyre battle — with Israel claiming it took out a key guerrilla unit involved in firing long-range rockets into Israel — including one Friday that hit the town of Hadera some 50 miles south of the border in the deepest Hezbollah strike yet.
Hezbollah claimed it had successfully repulsed the assault.
The commandos landed from the sea and progressed through an orchard before dawn, cutting through a barbed wire fence to advance on the apartment building where a fierce gunbattle broke out with those inside.
Later, pools of blood were seen in the orchard, through which the Israelis evacuated their wounded. A corner apartment in the building was left charred, with furniture melted by an initial explosion in the assault. The building's stairs and pavement outside were stained with blood and littered with bullets from the fighting.
At least five Lebanese — including a soldier at a nearby checkpoint — were killed in the raid, the Lebanese military and rescue workers said.
Brig. Gen. Noam Feig, Israel's deputy navy commander, said the commandos killed four Hezbollah guerrillas inside the apartment who were directly involved in the Hadera attack.
Five more Hezbollah fighters were killed in a gunbattle on the way out, while eight Israeli soldiers were injured, including one who underwent surgery at the scene, Feig said.
A resident said he saw the commando force attack the building. "They all had beards. I thought maybe they were Hezbollah," 18-year-old Qassem Aad said of the Israelis.
Aad said he saw several people standing outside the building with their hands up, and that shooting then erupted. "I saw a man screaming, he was shot."
In a separate incident, a missile fired by an Israeli drone killed two people riding a motorcycle near al-Bass, on the outskirts of Tyre, the Lebanese military said.
In eastern Lebanon, a gutted van with the charred body of the driver was found Saturday morning in a field near Qaa, the town's mayor, Saadeh Toum, said.
Meanwhile, loud explosions resounded in Beirut as Israeli warplanes renewed their strikes on Hezbollah strongholds in the city's southern suburbs. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said four people were killed in the bombing.
Hezbollah fired some 70 rockets into northern Israel, killing three Israeli women in a single attack in a direct hit on the house they were in, police said. Israel said Hezbollah had fired some 3,000 rockets into northern Israel since fighting broke out July 12.
Israel's military said it carried out some 160 airstrikes against Lebanon in the past 36 hours.
More than three weeks of Israeli bombardment have been unable to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks. The Israeli military has stepped up its ground campaign, pushing troops across all along the border in an attempt to force Hezbollah back. The troops have seized positions in or near 20 towns and villages, moving about 2 miles into Lebanon — with the deepest foray about 6 milesin, according to Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command.
Heavy clashes erupted at the border village of Aita al-Shaab, where Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said guerrillas ambushed Israeli troops with machine guns and rockets in a coordinated attack from different sides. Al-Manar said at least six Israelis were killed or wounded.
Saturday's Hezbollah barrage brought to 33 the number of Israeli civilians killed by rocket fire in 25 days of fighting. Forty-five Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon, including one on Saturday. Some 300,000 Israelis have fled their homes.
An Associated Press count showed at least 567 Lebanese have been killed, including 489 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry, 28 Lebanese soldiers and at least 50 Hezbollah guerrillas. The Lebanese government's Higher Relief Council said 907 Lebanese had been killed in the conflict.
Estimates of Lebanese homeless range from 800,000 to 1 million.
In the southeast, Hezbollah mortars hit two vehicles of an Israeli engineering corps during heavy fighting around a village in the Taibeh area — the scene of a major Israeli ground assault in recent days. An Israeli soldier was killed and nine others wounded, the military said.
Later Saturday, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets in the southern port of Sidon, between Tyre and Beirut, saying rockets had been fired from nearby and warning civilians to evacuate Lebanon's third-largest city and flee north ahead of bombing.
The French-U.S. agreement on a U.N. resolution represented a significant show of unity after weeks of disagreements. The United States has been resisting European pressure for a resolution calling for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire.
The resolution would call for the current U.N. force in Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL, to monitor the cessation in fighting. Once Israel and Lebanon have agreed to a series of steps also spelled out in the resolution for a long-term solution, the Security Council would then authorize a new peacekeeping force for the region.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the full 15-nation Security Council was to meet later Saturday to discuss the resolution, and it was likely to be adopted in the next couple of days.
Pressure remained high for a cease-fire amid fears the fighting could spiral out of control to other parts of the Middle East.
Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah, the prime minister of Kuwait, a top U.S. ally, warned that the Lebanon war "could contribute to creating new terrorists, and that of course would pose a new danger in the area."
Tens of thousands marched through London to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire in the Middle East.
Police said 20,000 people joined the march from Hyde Park past the U.S. Embassy and on to Parliament. Organizers — a coalition of peace, Muslim, Palestinian and Lebanese groups — put the turnout at more than 100,000.
In Cairo, more than 2,000 people rallied to demand authorities allow them to fight in Lebanon in support of Hezbollah.
"We will all be resistance in the Arabs' struggle against Israel," they yelled, while some set Israeli and U.S. flags on fire.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has explicitly said Egypt will not be dragged into the conflict militarily, but the crowd's demand was indicative of the growing support in the Arab world for the Hezbollah guerrillas.