Israeli tanks roll toward Lebanese village

story.beirut.afp.gifTroops are already on the ground in the area and the operation is considered a widening of limited Israeli action in southern Lebanon, not a signal that a full-scale ground invasion has begun.

Thousands of Israeli troops remain massed on the border, and Lebanon’s president is warning that his army would defend the country if Israel launches a full-scale ground invasion.

Israeli airstrikes hit a communications tower, disrupting television and phone service throughout north Lebanon Saturday, a Lebanese government official said.

Video broadcast by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. showed black smoke pouring from a transmission tower north of Beirut.

LBC said that an employee, Suleiman Shidiyaq, was killed in the transmission tower attack in Fatqa and another worker, Charbel Aqiqi, was injured in an air strike on another transmission tower in Sanine, also in northern Lebanon.

Israeli attacks have killed at least 263 people and wounded at least 624 in Lebanon since July 12 when the offensive was launched in response to the capturing of two soldiers inside Israel, according to official Lebanese sources.

Hezbollah rocket attacks have killed 15 civilians and 19 soldiers in Israel and wounded more than 300 people, the Israel Defense Force said.

Another 10 people were wounded as about 10 Hezbollah rockets fell on northern Israel on Saturday morning, Israeli ambulance services said. Explosions were heard soon after an air-raid siren sounded in Haifa.

Military options

Israeli Gen. Shuki Shachar declined to say Friday whether a ground invasion had been authorized. But he said the army is continually evaluating the need.

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 IDF said it was calling up about 6,000 reservists as reinforcements to the border.

Any invasion would threaten 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.

“We are not going to let anybody take our land. We are not going to let them come back and take it,” he added.

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 majority of attacks on both sides of the border have come from the air.

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.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Friday she leave for 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.”

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.

Other developments

 

  • The U.S. State Department says more than 5,700 Americans have been transported out of Lebanon since Sunday. Other Western nations also are continuing to pull their citizens out of the country. 

     

  • There are “serious obstacles” to reaching a comprehensive cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, said Vijay Nambiar, the leader of a U.N. team sent to investigate the crisis. 

     

  • U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland will travel to Beirut, hoping to win agreement to create safe routes into Lebanon for relief convoys. 

     

  • The Red Cross sent 22 tons of food and supplies, along with a nutritionist and a surgeon, from Beirut to Tyre, Lebanon, on Friday, according to the international relief agency.
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