Deadliest Day for Israel in Lebanon

By Jonathan Finer and Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 27, 2006

AVIVIM, Israel, July 27 -- More than 100 Hezbollah fighters staged a fierce ambush on Israeli ground forces entering the Lebanese border town of Bint Jbeil before dawn Wednesday, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 22 with gunfire, mortars and antitank missiles.

Later Wednesday, another Israeli soldier was killed near the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras.

It was the bloodiest day for Israeli troops in southern Lebanon since clashes there began two weeks ago. "We walked into a wasp's nest and we knew it would be a wasp's nest," said Maj. Zvika Golan, a spokesman for the Israeli army's Northern Command. By his account, all of the ambushed soldiers were on foot because the roads into the town were littered with antitank mines.

The fighting passed two other milestones of intensity Wednesday: One hundred and fifty-one missiles were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel, the most in a day in the current conflict; and 24 Palestinians were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip, the highest number since Israeli settlers and forces were pulled out of the strip last year.

Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, who heads the Northern Command, told reporters Wednesday evening that Israeli attacks in Lebanon could continue "for several weeks" and warned that "we expect more days similar to this one." Early Thursday morning, Israeli warplanes struck targets near Beirut and in southern Lebanon.

The rise in violence came as high-ranking diplomats gathered in Rome to discuss a resolution to the conflict but adjourned without agreeing on a plan for stopping the violence. The U.S. delegation, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, rejected calls from other representatives for an immediate cease-fire.

During a visit to Tajikistan on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a cease-fire in Lebanon and said the United States wants to "recarve the map" of the region with Israel's help, the Associated Press reported. Ahmadinejad also demanded that Israel compensate Lebanon and apologize for its actions. Iran, dominated by Shiite Muslims, has long backed Hezbollah, a radical Shiite movement.

Responding to international concern over a mounting humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, Israel's government acted on a pledge to ease a two-week blockade to allow regular shipment of goods into Beirut by sea and air.

Taking swift advantage of the change, two Jordanian C-130 Hercules military transports landed at Beirut's international airport Wednesday morning, the first planes to reach the facility since it was bombed by Israeli warplanes at the outset of the conflict July 12. A third was scheduled to arrive during the evening, according to Richard Mougaes, ground manager at the airport for Lebanon's flag carrier, Middle East Airlines.

Aid officials expressed hope that the flights were the beginning of a large flow of humanitarian supplies into the Lebanese capital. But the Israeli military so far has refused to guarantee the safety of relief trucks to move supplies south down the coastal highway, which has been badly damaged by bombing, the officials said.

"The problem remains to get the assistance to the south where it is needed," said Hisham Hassan, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut.

The Red Cross has moved five convoys of relief supplies southward so far, he said, each one with a specific route authorized by Israeli military authorities. The first U.N. convoy to move relief supplies south reached the city of Tyre late Wednesday with 90 tons of wheat, soap, diapers, water purification tablets and emergency medical kits, U.N. officials said.

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