With thousands of Israeli troops massed on the Lebanese border, Lebanon’s president is warning that his army would defend the country if Israel launches a full-scale ground invasion.
The Israel Defense Forces said it was calling up about 6,000 reservists as reinforcements along the border. Israeli airstrikes hit a communications tower, disrupting television and phone service throughout north Lebanon Saturday, a Lebanese government official said.
Video broadcast by Lebanese television station LBC showed black smoke pouring from a transmission tower north of Beirut.
A second tower location was also destroyed by an airstrike, LBC reported.
Ten people were wounded as about 10 Hezbollah rockets fell on northern Israel on Saturday morning, Israeli ambulance services said. Israeli artillery meanwhile shelled Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.
Leaflets urging residents in southern Lebanon to leave their homes and move north of the Litani River, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Israeli border, have been dropped in the region, the IDF said.
About 1,000 Israeli ground troops so far have been sent across the border for what commanders call pinpoint operations against Hezbollah strongholds, sources said.
The majority of attacks have come from the air. Israel began hammering Lebanon with artillery and airstrikes after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid.
Israeli Gen. Shuki Shachar declined to say whether a ground invasion has been authorized. But he said the army is continually evaluating the need.
“All the power is going in the direction of Lebanon. Some are active, reserve units,” said Shachar, deputy commander of the Israeli military’s Northern Command. “All reinforcements are going to the direction of Lebanon.” The situation inside war-torn Lebanon is dire.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that if the violence does not end and if innocent Lebanese people continue to be killed or displaced, “I’m afraid of a major humanitarian disaster.”
Rice will travel to region
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Friday she leave forl to Israel and the West Bank on Sunday to address the crisis and would attend a meeting of diplomats concentrating on the situation in Lebanon.
She said she will not pursue a cease-fire because that would constitute “a false promise if it returns us to the status quo.”
An invasion by Israel threatens to pull Lebanon’s army into the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants.
“Of course, the army is going to defend its land,” Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said. While the army “cannot be strong enough to be against Israel on the frontier,” he said, “inside Lebanon, they can do a lot.”
“We are not going to let anybody take our land. We are not going to let them come back and take it,” he added.
At least 263 people have been killed in Lebanon and 624 wounded, internal security sources said. However, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Wednesday that more than 300 Lebanese had died. He said about 1,000 people had been hurt.
Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said Friday that almost 100 Hezbollah fighters have been killed, and the IDF said it had the bodies of 13 Hezbollah fighters.
Lahoud, however, said Israel had killed only six Hezbollah fighters.
Fifteen civilians in Israel and 19 soldiers have died in attacks and fighting, the IDF said.
Israel held a buffer zone in Lebanese territory north of its border during much of the 1980s and 1990s before ending its occupation in 2000. The buffer zone was about half the size of the land from the border to the Litani River.
The United States and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The group, which has claimed responsibility for terrorist acts, also operates an extensive network of social services in Lebanon. Its political wing holds seats in the Lebanese parliament.