Lebanon 'seeks ceasefire'

Lebanon seeks an immediate ceasefire in the nearly two-week old Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah in the country’s south, Lebanon’s ambassador to Japan said today.

Lebanese Ambassador Toufic Jaber told reporters in Tokyo that his government also wanted a “permanent” solution to the crisis from the international community.

Jaber said the government is amenable to discussing a multi-national force moving in to Lebanon’s south – where the guerrillas have held sway for years - once a concrete proposal for such has been made. However, any solution to the problem must also be “permanent”, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said, according to Jaber.

In the meantime, the Lebanese government is also calling on the international community to provide food, medicine and other supplies to aid the more than 500,000 people who have been displaced in the wake of the Israeli assault, Jaber said.

Heavy fighting erupted today as Israeli ground forces pushed further into Lebanon, heading toward a Hezbollah stronghold, the military said. The guerrillas fired more rockets at northern Israel.

Israeli troops took control of the area surrounding the Lebanese town of Bint Jbail early today after a heavy artillery barrage there. However, the army had not yet taken the town, military officials said.

The Israeli army said nine soldiers were wounded in fighting today. Israeli media reports said a number of guerrillas also were wounded.

Large plumes of grey smoke could be seen rising over the area.

Bint Jbail, a major town, is about 1.25 miles north of the hilltop village of Maroun al-Ras, another Hezbollah centre. Over the weekend, Israeli ground troops had fought for control of Maroun al-Ras, which is less than 500 yards from the border.

The army said it was expanding its ground operation in Lebanon, which had been limited during the two-offensive to pinpoint operations near the border – a policy that military analysts said may well be insufficient to achieve Israel’s goal of pushing Hezbollah back and destroying its ability to attack Israel.

“The scope continues to grow in recent days,” Brigadier General Alon Friedman told Israel Army Radio. “We are advancing.”

Friedman said the operation would continue for up to 10 days “in order to achieve the basic goals we set down,” including trying to stop Hezbollah rocket fire.

Israel Radio also reported today that Israeli airstrikes destroyed nine rocket launchers in the area of Tyre, a Lebanese port 12 miles north of the Israeli border, where Hezbollah guerrillas have been firing rockets at the port of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. The report said one attack knocked out a 14-tube launcher that was to be used today for further rocket strikes.

The army said it captured two Hezbollah guerrillas, the first it had taken any into custody during the fighting.

“When the enemy surrenders, we take them prisoner. The two prisoners are located in Israel and will be held here with the aim of interrogating them,” said Friedman.

Two more rockets were fired into Israel today, landing in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, rescue officials said. No casualties or damage were reported.

Yesterday 95 rockets were fired into Israel, killing two people in the city of Haifa, the military said.

Israel launched its operation in Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas killed three soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Before Israel’s capture of two of its fighters, Hezbollah leaders had demanded that Israel release Palestinian and Hezbollah prisoners to win freedom for the two captured Israeli soldiers. Israel has ruled out talks, demanding the unconditional return of its soldiers, but it has negotiated such exchanges in the past.

At least 381 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 20 soldiers and 11 Hezbollah fighters, according to security officials. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have fled their homes.

Israel’s death toll stands at 36, with 17 people killed by Hezbollah rockets and 19 soldiers killed in the fighting. More than nine soldiers have been wounded, and 255 civilians injured by rocket fire, rescue workers said.

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