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Fighting Rages in Southern Lebanon With No Cease-Fire in Sight


Fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah militants raged in southern Lebanon with the Israeli military saying eight of its troops have been killed and 20 others wounded. The Israeli military says dozens of Hezbollah fighters have been killed. The fighting goes on after world envoys could not agree on calls for an immediate cease-fire in a conference in Rome.

For the past several days Israeli troops met fierce resistance in their efforts to take the hilltop town of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold four kilometers inside the Lebanese border.

Casualties mounted as more troops and tanks moved in. Reporter Robert Berger was on the Lebanese border and described for VOA what he saw.

"The fighting has been house to house. These heavily fortified Merkava tanks are among the best in the world, but Hezbollah has inflicted losses with anti-tank missiles," he said. "Israel has encountered tougher resistance than expected, so it is sending in reinforcements."

Earlier an Israeli air strike destroyed a U.N. post in southern Lebanon and killed four unarmed military observers. Initial U.N. reports say the Israeli military was warned repeatedly it risked hitting the U.N. position. Israel says it was an accident and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed "deep sorrow" over the incident.

Israeli warplanes again pounded targets across southern Lebanon, including a multi-story building in central Tyre. Israel says it is targeting Hezbollah positions. It wants to establish a safe buffer zone of a few kilometers until an international force can take over.

Establishing and deploying an international peacekeeping force was on the agenda in Rome where senior U.S., European and Arab officials met to discuss the Lebanon crisis.

Attending the Rome conference, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora made an impassioned plea for an immediate cease-fire.

"The more we delay the cease-fire, the more we are going to witness more are being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon," he said.

In the past two weeks of air strikes, rocket attacks, shelling and ground fighting more than 400 Lebanese have been killed, most of them civilians. More than 700,000 have been displaced. Relief supplies have begun to arrive, but there are still reports of civilians trapped in villages under Israeli bombardment and others trying desperately to flee.

The United States has supported Israel's position that an immediate cease-fire would do little good as it would leave an emboldened Hezbollah in place as a continued threat.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated that position in Rome, again calling for a sustainable truce.

"We are all agreed that we want most urgently to end the violence on a basis that this time will be sustainable, because unfortunately this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, followed by too many spasms of violence, followed then by other spasms of violence," said Ms. Rice.

The U.S. position is widely viewed as a green light for Israel to continue its offensive and the senior Israeli commander in the north has said that offensive could continue for several more weeks.

The Israeli military action has not stopped Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets into northern Israel. Hezbollah has fired more than 1,000 Katyushas since hostilities broke out July 12, following a deadly Hezbollah raid into Israel. More than 100 rockets landed in northern Israel on Wednesday.

Israel and the State Department say Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.

More than 40 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, including at least two-dozen soldiers and that toll continues to rise.

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