Diplomatic Efforts Are Stepped Up
The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah moved into a third week, marked by fierce ground fighting and fitful diplomacy. Fighting also continued in the Gaza Strip, where 37 Palestinians, including civilians and fighters, died. Here is a recap of major events over the last week in the conflict, which so far has claimed the lives of 52 Israelis, four United Nations monitors and 400 to 600 Lebanese, according to U.N. estimates.
Israel indicates for the first time that it could accept an international military force in southern Lebanon as part of an eventual agreement. The idea is also endorsed by U.S. and European leaders, although few
nations seem eager to contribute troops. In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Saudi officials before heading to the Middle East. Hezbollah rockets hit Haifa, killing two civilians and forcing the French foreign minister to take cover. In Lebanon, an Israeli airstrike hits a minibus and a convoy of cars filled with evacuees fleeing toward
the port city of Tyre, killing at least four and wounding dozens. A Lebanese photographer is killed when a missile hits her taxi. Israel continues to pound suspected Hezbollah positions in Beirut, Sidon and the hilltop border village of Maroun el Ras, which Israeli army officials Saturday claimed was in their control.
In a surprise visit to Beirut, Rice rejects appeals from Lebanese officials for an immediate cease-fire. She also meets with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki criticizes the United States for its tolerance of civilian casualties in Lebanon, saying the U.S. position will cause “a great push toward fundamentalism” in Arab countries. At least four Israeli soldiers are killed in fighting around the town of Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold two miles from the border. Hezbollah rocket attacks continue, with about 80 fired into Israel, seriously wounding one person. In the Gaza Strip, six Palestinians are killed in Israeli artillery fire on areas allegedly used by militants to fire Kassam rockets. The U.S. completes the evacuation of nearly 12,000 Americans from Beirut, but several hundred remain in southern Lebanon.
Israeli warplanes strike a U.N. border post near the Lebanese town of Khiam, killing four observers. The post is hit at least 16 times over six hours. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the attack was “apparently deliberate,” a charge that Israel’s U.N. ambassador calls “outrageous.” Hezbollah rocket fire kills a 15-year-old Israeli girl in a northern Galilee town, and the group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, threatens strikes deeper into Israel. Rice meets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and says an “enduring” peace will only be possible if Hezbollah is disarmed. “It is time for a new Middle East,” she declares. Olmert says the Israeli army will allow some humanitarian aid shipments into Lebanon. Fighting continues around Bint Jbeil.
Hezbollah fighters in and around Bint Jbeil ambush Israeli soldiers and kill eight in house-to-house fighting. A ninth Israeli soldier is killed in a separate clash. The number of Hezbollah casualties is not known. Hezbollah fires more than 150 rockets into northern Israel, injuring more than 30 people. In Rome, diplomats from Europe and the Middle East meet to discuss the Lebanon conflict. The U.S. blocks efforts by other nations to call for an immediate cease-fire. Israel continues to bomb sites in Lebanon, including a building in central Tyre that is the home of a cleric with close ties to Hezbollah. As the first aid convoy reaches Tyre, a Cypriot ferry evacuates 320 people, mostly Americans, from the town. At the U.N., officials detail the repeated calls they made to Israeli officials trying to stop the attack on the Khiam border outpost. In the Gaza Strip, an Israeli offensive kills 23 people, at least half of them fighters with Hamas and other militant groups, but also three children.
Israel announces it will mobilize as many as 15,000 more reservists, and a senior Israeli minister asserts that the Rome meeting, which failed to call for an immediate cease-fire, amounted to “permission from the world” to continue the fight against Hezbollah. President Bush endorses that view, but other world leaders dissent. The Israeli Cabinet votes to not immediately widen the ground offensive. Fighting continues around Bint Jbeil as does Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel, with about 80 missiles landing, but no major injuries reported. Officials in Lebanon say the country is running out of fuel for its power plants.
Diplomatic efforts step up as Rice prepares to return to the region. In Lebanon, the government puts forward a cease-fire plan that it says has the approval of Hezbollah. In Washington, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they will seek a U.N. resolution to send an “international stabilization force” to southern Lebanon. Israel continues to bomb sites in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and south of Beirut. Fighting also continues around Bint Jbeil. Hezbollah launches about 100 rockets into Israel, including what is believed to be an Iranian-made medium-range weapon that hits the town of Afula, about 30 miles from the border. It was the deepest strike into Israel so far. No serious injuries are reported.
Rice arrives in Jerusalem, saying she sees momentum toward a settlement on both sides of the conflict. She meets with Olmert, the Israeli prime minister. But in a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah threatens to hit Israel’s population centers with longer-range missiles if it doesn’t stop its offensive. In Lebanon, Israeli forces pull back from the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint Jbeil, saying they have destroyed much of a network of tunnels, caves and bunkers. Israel says it killed as many as 80 more Hezbollah guerrillas, pushing the total past 300. But the Shiite militia says only 31 of its fighters have been killed. Israel conducts more than 100 aerial attacks, including one strike half a mile from the Syrian border on the Beirut-Damascus highway. Hezbollah fires more than 90 rockets into northern Israel, injuring five people.