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Israeli Plans for Deeper Raid on Hold
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Hezbollah guerrillas fought Israeli troops pushing further into southeast Lebanon Thursday, though an Israeli cabinet minister said plans for a deeper ground assault were on hold to give diplomacy a chance.

Hezbollah fired nearly 70 rockets into Israel, killing a woman and a toddler in an Israeli Arab village, medics said.

An Israeli air raid killed a motorcyclist near Tyre Thursday. Another strike killed a civilian in the Bekaa Valley.

An Israeli force headed towards the southeastern town of Khiam amid heavy artillery shelling and air strikes on Hezbollah positions, residents said. Infantry moved through the Christian towns of Marjayoun and Qlaiah overnight and imposed a curfew.

The fighting intensified even though Israel's tourism minister said plans for an expanded ground offensive, approved on Wednesday, had been put on hold to allow more time for US-led diplomatic efforts to bear fruit.

The UN Security Council has been divided over a resolution aimed at stabilizing the area by deploying an international force to back the Lebanese army. No vote seems imminent.

"We can allow a little more time to see if there's a possibility for a diplomatic process," said minister Yitzhak Herzog, a member of Israel's security cabinet.

Israel's well-flagged plans for a bigger offensive are intended partly to ratchet up pressure on the Beirut government to accept the Jewish state's terms for halting hostilities.

Israeli leaflets dropped on Beirut told people in the crowded Shiyah, Burj al-Barajneh and Hay al-Sulloum districts to leave or be bombed. The Shi'ite suburbs have already been heavily hit.

The conflict, now in its fifth week, has created an acute humanitarian crisis, especially for an estimated 10,000 people trapped in south Lebanon, where aid agencies said hospitals were running out of food, fuel and other supplies.

The UN World Food Program urged both sides to stop fighting, saying relief efforts were now facing paralysis.

"Above all, we require a cessation of hostilities by both sides to allow humanitarian aid through," Zlatan Milisic, WFP emergency co-ordinator in Lebanon, said in a statement.

He said the destruction of bridges and Israel's refusal to guarantee the safety of aid convoys were crippling WFP efforts.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said Israel could be destroying Lebanon while leaving Hezbollah intact.

Tuomioja, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, also said in Cairo it was "very frustrating" that a ceasefire deal was so elusive because the Europeans had never believed there was a military solution to the conflict.

The Israeli infantry advance towards Khiam was followed by tanks that drew intense Hezbollah fire. "I can see two tanks burning some 500 meters from Marjayoun," one resident said. A third tank arrived later and removed several casualties, he said, adding that Hezbollah fighters were raining rocket and mortar fire on the Israeli force between Marjayoun and Khiam.

(China Daily August 11, 2006)


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