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Israeli air raids kill 40 civilians in Lebanon

Reuters | August 5 2006

Israeli air strikes have killed at least 40 civilians in Lebanon and Hezbollah has launched its longest-range rocket attack of the war into the Israeli city of Hadera.

One Israeli air strike hit a farm near Qaa in Lebanon, close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley.

Local officials say farm workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, were loading plums and peaches on to trucks, and the air strike killed 33 people and wounded 20.

Meanwhile, several Hezbollah rockets landed in or near the Israeli city of Hadera, about 80 kilometres from the Lebanese border, in the deepest rocket attack of the war so far.

The United States and France have inched closer to a deal on a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for an end to the fighting.

Once they reach agreement, which officials say could happen over the weekend, an UN Security Council vote could be held within 24 hours.

"There are still some issues that we have not resolved, but I think we have come a little bit closer this morning," US Ambassador John Bolton said.

"We will keep working on it."

An Israeli army spokesman says the air strikes in the Qaa area targeted two buildings that military intelligence shows Hezbollah was using to store weapons.

But television footage showed bodies of what appeared to be farm workers lined up near the ruins of a small structure in fruit groves, with fruit baskets strewn nearby.

It was one of the deadliest air strikes in 24 days of war.

Another air strike on a house in the front-line Taibeh village in southern Lebanon has killed seven civilians and wounded 10, a security source says.

The source says the civilians were sheltering in the house during fierce battles.

Fighting has been raging in the south as Israeli troops try to expand seven small border enclaves they control.

Bridges bombed

Israeli aircraft have destroyed four bridges on the main coastal highway north of Beirut, disrupting efforts to aid civilians displaced or trapped by the conflict in Lebanon.

The bombing of the bridges has cut off the coastal highway to Syria, which the UN calls its "umbilical cord" for aid to Lebanon.

The bridge at Maameltein, north of Beirut, has been split by a huge crater which partially engulfed a crushed mini-van.

Further north, another bridge is lying in the valley it once spanned.

UN refugee agency spokeswoman Astrid van Genderen Stort says the whole road is gone.

"It's really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country," she said.

Israel says it has destroyed the bridges to prevent Syria from rearming Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran.

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel says the Israeli bombing of the routes north of Beirut has 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," he said.

The UN World Food Program has 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 southern Lebanon and artillery pummelled border areas.

Hezbollah, which is trying to stop new Israeli incursions near Markaba and the coastal town of Naqoura, says its fighters destroyed eight Israeli tanks and an armoured troop carrier.

Israel has put more than 10,000 troops into Lebanon and says it has carved out a zone containing 20 villages up to seven kilometres from its border.

Israel's Defence Minister ordered the army to prepare for a possible push further north.


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