Israeli air raid kills 33 civilians in Lebanon
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent
An Israeli air strike on Friday and Hizbollah fired in a worsening conflict that world powers have failed to halt.
It was the second deadliest strike in Lebanon after an air raid killed up to 54 civilians in the village of Qana on Sunday.
Israeli aircraft on the main coastal highway north of Beirut, displaced or trapped by the conflict in Lebanon.
With no action to end the 24-day-old war emerging from the United Nations, fierce fighting raged in the south as Israeli troops tried to expand seven small border enclaves they control.
The bombing of bridges in the Christian heartlands north of Beirut cut off the coastal highway to Syria, which the United Nations called its "umbilical cord" for aid to Lebanon.
The bridge at Maameltein, north of Beirut, was split by a huge crater which partially engulfed a crushed minivan. Further north, another bridge lay in the valley it once spanned.
"The whole road is gone," said Astrid van Genderen Stort of the U.N. refugee agency. "It's really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country."
Israel said it had destroyed the bridges to prevent Syria from rearming Hizbollah, which is also backed by Iran.
The European Commission said Israeli bombing of routes north of Beirut had made it harder to deliver humanitarian aid.
"We will need guarantees for the safety of our people on the ground if we are to successfully continue the provision of aid," said European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel.
The U.N. World Food Program called off planned convoys to the southern port city of Tyre after air raids on a Beirut suburb prevented drivers from reaching the assembly point.
More than 150 Israeli air strikes hit south Lebanon and artillery pummeled border areas as Hizbollah tried to stop new Israeli incursions near Markaba and the coastal town of Naqoura.
Hizbollah fighters killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded two near Markaba, Israel's army said. Al Arabiya television said five Israeli soldiers had been killed. Israeli media said seven Hizbollah guerrillas had also died in the battle.
Hizbollah said its fighters had destroyed eight Israeli tanks and an armored troop carrier in fighting around the southern villages of Markaba, Aita al-Shaab and Taibeh.
Israel, which has put more than 10,000 troops into Lebanon, says it has carved out a zone containing 20 villages up to seven km (four miles) from the border and the defense minister has ordered the army to prepare for a possible push further north.
At least 720 people in Lebanon and 73 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, ignited by a cross-border raid in which Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12.
The United States and France were to hold more talks to try to bridge their differences over a draft U.N. resolution aimed at securing a ceasefire backed by an international force more robust than the U.N. peacekeepers already in south Lebanon.
Washington wants an international force in southern Lebanon immediately after a truce. France, a likely leader of the force, wants the troops to move in only after a permanent ceasefire.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch will visit Beirut on Saturday for talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on ways to end the war, Lebanese political sources said.
to recover another captured soldier and stop Palestinian rockets.
Israel killed three Palestinians in the Strip on Friday amid air strikes on militant targets that also wounded four people.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a member of the Hamas Islamist militant group, described Israel's offensives in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon as a "war on Islam."
In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, some symbolically wearing white burial shrouds, protested against Israel's actions in Lebanon.
"With God's help, the Mehdi Army and Hizbollah will be victorious," crowds chanted in the sprawling slums of Sadr City.
(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Geneva, Baghdad and United Nations bureaux)