ON THE ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER – Heavy fighting erupted Monday as Israeli ground forces pushed further into Lebanon, entering another Hezbollah stronghold, as more Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel.
After fierce fighting, Israeli troops took control of a hilltop in Bint Jbail, but the rest of the Lebanese town remained under the control of Hezbollah guerrillas, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said. Bint Jbail was described as a symbolic location for Hezbollah because its leader had made a defiant speech there after Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.
Israeli artillery units continuously lobbed shells into Lebanon to provide cover for the ground operations. Frequent explosions and gunfire could be heard in southern Lebanon from the Israeli side of the border, and smoke rose over the area.
It said at least one Israeli tank was hit by incessant Hezbollah fire and that 10 soldiers were wounded in the fighting. Hezbollah guerrillas were firing mortars into northern Israeli and anti-tank missiles at Israeli forces, the IDF said.
An Israeli helicopter also crashed in northern Israel while making an emergency landing, killing both pilots. The IDF said the crash was caused by a technical problem, not enemy fire.
Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers were seen heading toward the battle, but two tanks also traversed the rocky hills at high speed, crossing back into Israel to carry wounded soldiers out. The wounded were taken to civilian ambulances, which sped off toward hospitals with sirens blaring.
The military said it captured two Hezbollah guerrillas, and Israeli media said attacks by Israel's air force had caused some Hezbollah casualties.
Bint Jbail, a major town, is about 1.25 miles north of the hilltop village of Maroun al-Ras, another Hezbollah center. Over the weekend, Israeli ground troops fought for control of Maroun al-Ras, which is less than 500 yards from the border.
"Bint Jbail is a symbol of Hezbollah. Remember that (Sheik Hassan) Nasrallah's famous speech was in Bint Jbail," said army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.
The army said it was expanding its ground operation in Lebanon, which had been limited during the two-week offensive to pinpoint operations near the border — a policy that military analysts said may well be insufficient to achieve Israel's goal of pushing Hezbollah back and destroying its ability to attack Israel.
"The scope continues to grow in recent days," Brig. Gen. Alon Friedman told Israel Army Radio. "We are advancing."
Friedman said the operation would continue for up to 10 days "in order to achieve the basic goals we set down," including trying to stop Hezbollah rocket fire.
Hezbollah guerrillas also continued their barrage of rocket attacks on northern Israel Monday, firing at least 26 Katyushas across the border, according to officials. At least one person was wounded in the town of Shlome.
Smoke rose from several locations where rockets landed in the town of Kiryat Shmona. Rescue officials said there was no major damage or casualties.
Halutz, touring an army induction base in Tel Aviv, said there were still concerns that Hezbollah rockets could strike deep into Israel, hitting the city, which is Israel's financial center.
The Israeli military said that during the past 24 hours its planes had hit more than 270 targets across Lebanon, including 21 missile launchers, more than 50 Hezbollah buildings and Hezbollah communication lines.
The army said it captured two Hezbollah guerrillas, the first it had taken any into custody during the fighting. "When the enemy surrenders, we take them prisoner. The two prisoners are located in Israel and will be held here with the aim of interrogating them," said Friedman.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced trip to Beirut Monday, flying there from Cyprus for a five-hour visit. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told her his government is hoping to "put an end to the war being inflicted on Lebanon."
Rice later arrived in Israel where she was set to have dinner with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. On Tuesday she is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Sunday 95 rockets were fired into Israel, killing two people in the city of Haifa, the military said.
Israel launched its operation in Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas killed three soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid on July 12.
Before Israel's capture of two of its fighters, Hezbollah leaders had demanded that Israel release Palestinian and Hezbollah prisoners to win freedom for the two captured Israeli soldiers. Israel has ruled out talks, demanding the unconditional return of its soldiers, but it has negotiated such exchanges in the past.
At least 381 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 20 soldiers and 11 Hezbollah fighters, according to security officials. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have fled their homes.
Israel's death toll stands at 37, with 17 people killed by Hezbollah rockets and 20 soldiers killed in the fighting. Sixty-eight soldiers have been wounded, and 255 civilians injured by rocket fire, officials said.
Up to 40 percent of the 200,000 Lebanese who live in villages along territory closest to the border are likely still in their homes, unable or too afraid to move because of Israeli shelling, U.N. observers said.
More foreigners fled Lebanon by sea from Beirut. A Greek ferry commissioned by European countries arrived in Tyre and took on hundreds of stranded foreigners.
A group of 300 Americans and 100 other Europeans were believed trapped in villages south of Tyre, said Erik Rattat, a German official involved in the operation. It did not appear that they made it to the ship. An Associated Press reporter at the scene an hour before it left said they had not arrived, and the U.S. Embassy could not immediately say if they had reached the ship in time.
Some 11,700 Americans have fled Lebanon, the State Department said. U.S. Consul William Gill said most Americans who wanted to leave had done so by Sunday.
President Bush ordered a fleet of U.S. helicopters and ships to carry badly needed humanitarian supplies into Lebanon.
Officials have been trying to move aid along shattered roads to the south where it's needed most -- although Israel has not defined a safe route to the region.
Two convoys carrying generators for hospitals, food, tarpaulins and hygiene kits were heading from Beirut to Tyre and the southern city of Marjayoun, said Hisham Hassan, ICRC spokesman in Lebanon.
Aid was starting to move into Beirut's port after Israel opened it for humanitarian ships. An Italian warship brought food, medicine, tents, blankets, water, electrical generators and ambulances. A ferry carrying supplies from France also arrived.
U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland appealed for $150 million in humanitarian aid for the next three months for food, health care, water and sanitation. He said 500,000 to 800,000 people have been affected by the fighting.
Egeland said he was asking the Israelis for safe passage for aid ships to enter the northern port of Tripoli and the southern port of Tyre. So far, Israel has loosened its sea blockade only for Beirut.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.