ISRAELI AIR STRIKES on Lebanon killed 61 civilians and a Hizbollah fighter on Wednesday, the deadliest toll of the eight-day-old war, as thousands of villagers fled north and more foreigners were evacuated.
Hizbollah rockets killed two children in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, medics said. More Hizbollah rockets fell on the city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant.
Israeli troops crossed the border to raid Hizbollah posts and the Israeli army said two of its soldiers were killed and nine injured in fighting with Hizbollah fighters.
Despite international concern, there was no sign Israel or its Lebanese Shiite foes were ready to heed the Beirut government’s pleas for an immediate halt to a war that has killed at least 297 people in Lebanon and 29 in Israel.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said more than 500,000 people had been displaced and appealed for international help. “I call on you to respond immediately and without reservation to our call for a ceasefire and to provide urgent international humanitarian aid,” he said in a televised address.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the bombardment would last “as long as necessary” to free two soldiers captured by Hizbollah on July 12 and ensure its fighters are disarmed.
Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to swap the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli jails.
At least 17 Lebanese, including several children, were killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli air strike that destroyed houses in the southern village of Srifa, residents said.
“There was a massacre in Srifa,” the village’s mayor, Afif Najdi, told Reuters. Rescuers were still looking for bodies.
At least 44 other civilians were killed in air strikes that hammered other parts of south and east Lebanon, security sources said. Hizbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
Israel also bombed the runway at Beirut international airport, which has been closed since Thursday. The runway and fuel tanks have been hit several times.
Three Indian workers were wounded in an air strike on a glass factory in the eastern Bekaa Valley, medical sources said.
The sources had earlier said the workers were killed.
Israeli planes also bombed a base of the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Bekaa, the PFLP said. The group gave no word on casualties.
Many villagers in southern Lebanon said food, water and medical supplies were dwindling after roads and bridges were cut in the south, restricting movement of aid. The UN children’s fund appealed for $7.3 million to provide immediate assistance.
Displaced families packed into pick-up trucks and cars, many flying white flags, drove from border areas towards Sidon, the main city in the south, to try to escape the violence.
Panicked foreigners flooded out of the country.
“It’s very bad, very sad, I can’t believe what’s happening,” said a tearful Lubna Jaber, an Australian who had come to visit relatives in Lebanon. She was waiting in central Beirut with about 350 compatriots to board buses and then a ferry to Turkey.
About 1,100 American evacuees left Lebanon by sea and air bound for Cyprus on Wednesday, the largest group of US citizens to have been rescued from the country in a single day.
France said about 8,000 of its 17,000 citizens resident in Lebanon had asked to be evacuated. Germany sent at least 500 citizens by bus to Syria.
Israel’s offensive in Lebanon has coincided with a three-week-old push into the Gaza Strip to retrieve another soldier, seized by Palestinian fighters on June 25.
In Amman, King Abdullah told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the phone that more international efforts were needed to end Israeli aggression on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.