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Israel pounds Lebanon, rejects force plan

Beirut, July 17 (Reuters): Israel bombarded Lebanon for a sixth day today and dismissed as premature a proposal for an international stability force to help end the worst fighting across the Israeli-Lebanese border in more than 20 years.

Israeli warplanes hit coastal targets in the north and south, struck Beirut and damaged homes in the east belonging to members of the Hizbollah guerrilla group, which fired more rockets deep into the Jewish state.

An Israeli army spokesman also said some soldiers had crossed the border overnight to destroy Hizbollah positions but denied Israel had ground troops inside southern Lebanon.

“There was a very small incursion overnight to destroy a few Hizbollah positions... That has been done,” he said.

Lebanese televisions stations showed burning debris falling over Beirut and said an Israeli plane had been shot down. Israel’s defence minister Amir Peretz said no jet or helicopter had been lost but an unmanned drone may have been downed.

The fighting, the worst since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, was triggered when Hizbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran and is part of the Lebanese government, seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on northern Israel last week.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said Security Council members would start hammering out a detailed agreement on deploying a multilateral security force to south Lebanon. But Israel said it was too soon to talk of sending the force.

Army Radio quoted Israel’s chief of staff as saying Israel planned to enforce a 1 km “security zone” to keep Hizbollah away from the border. Hizbollah is seeking the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. It has not commented on international efforts to halt the fighting.

Echoing a muted call from the Group of Eight powers, the EU urged all sides to rein in violence, but stopped short of demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Israel’s campaign has killed 179 people, all but 13 of them civilians, and wounded more than 500. It has also destroyed much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. Twenty-four Israelis have been killed in the fighting, including 12 civilians hit in rocket attacks.

Israeli raids today destroyed two army posts on the northern Lebanese coast, killing at least six Lebanese soldiers, and damaged the homes of Hizbollah officials in eastern Lebanon, killing 11 people in more than 60 strikes.

Seven more people died in strikes south of Beirut, including one on a coastal road linking it to the port city of Sidon.

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