Israeli Forces Gather at Border

By Edward Cody and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 22, 2006

BEIRUT, July 21 -- The Israeli military called up reserve troops Friday and broadcast urgent radio warnings for civilians of battered southern Lebanon to leave "immediately" for relative safety north of the Litani River, adding to the growing indications that Israel is planning a large-scale ground operation to root out Hezbollah guerrillas and their missile caches.

Hezbollah, for its part, continued Friday sending rockets crashing into northern Israel, causing damage and injuries but no deaths.

In Washington, meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced plans to travel to the region next week for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and for a conference on the crisis in Rome on Wednesday with officials from Arab countries and the European Union. But she warned that the United States will not support a cease-fire that falls short of fully disarming Hezbollah and restoring Lebanese government control throughout Lebanon.

"What I won't do is go to someplace and try to get a cease-fire that I know isn't going to last," Rice told reporters at the State Department.

"A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, throughout the region," Rice said. "That would be a guarantee of future violence."

As she spoke, a column of Israeli armor and troops assembled on the border, where elite Israeli squads increasingly have been crossing over and engaging Hezbollah fighters in sharp but isolated clashes supported by tank and artillery fire. A Lebanese security official told reporters in Beirut that the Israeli soldiers have been moving in and out of Lebanese territory along a front stretching from Naqoura on the Mediterranean coast to Maroun al-Ras about 25 miles to the east, and on toward Majidiyeh to the north.

Two volleys of Hezbollah's longer-range rockets hit Haifa, a port city about 18 miles south of the border, and Israeli officials said 10 projectiles slammed into an apartment building and a post office. Three people were wounded and 16 were treated for shock, they said. Air raid sirens sounded throughout the day.

Rockets also exploded into a dozen other northern Israeli towns and farming villages, officials said, but no serious casualties were reported. In all, about 35 rockets came in. Hezbollah, a militant Shiite Muslim group, has fired more than 900 rockets into Israeli territory since the confrontation began July 12. Fifteen Israeli civilians have been killed and dozens wounded in the rocket attacks.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed late Thursday just north of the Israeli border town of Avivim, about 22 miles inland from the Mediterranean coast, during a mortar attack and intense firefight with Hezbollah guerrillas, the Israeli military said. That brought to 19 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in 10 days of fighting.

The Israeli army casualties have been greeted by many Lebanese as a sign of military prowess by Hezbollah fighters and preparedness by the militia leadership to confront Israeli forces. Hezbollah has acknowledged only six of its militiamen killed -- although Israel puts the number at 100 -- and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, vowed in a television interview Thursday night to keep up the fight as long as Israeli attacks continue on Lebanese territory.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said in a television interview that the national army would defend the country if Israeli troops invade. In fact, the Lebanese army has stayed out of the conflict and has no substantial presence in the southern Lebanese hills where the fighting has occurred.

A United Nations observation post in Israel just south of the border was severely damaged in an attack that Israel blamed on stray Hezbollah rockets. But an unnamed U.N. officer told the Associated Press the destruction was caused by misdirected Israeli artillery fire. None of the Ghanian soldiers manning the post was injured, the officer said.

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