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Israeli strikes kill 17 Lebanese

Lin Noueihed / Reuters | August 7 2006

Israeli bombs killed at least 17 civilians in Lebanon and cut a vital aid lifeline to the south on Monday in renewed fighting after diplomatic efforts to end the 27-day-old war stalled.

Hizbollah guerrillas responded by firing more rockets into northern Israel, wounding one person, a day after rockets killed 15 Israelis in the Jewish state's bloodiest day of the conflict.

Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said 925 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and 75 were missing, presumed dead. About one-third of the dead were children under the age of 13, he told Reuters. Ninety-four Israelis have also been killed.

As fighting raged in south Lebanon, Arab foreign ministers flew into Beirut on special flights from Jordan and Egypt for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the crisis.

Dozens of civilians were feared buried under the rubble after air strikes destroyed several houses in the Lebanese border village of Houla, security sources said. Seventeen people were killed in separate strikes on other villages in the south and the eastern Bekaa valley.

Israeli aircraft also hit the last coastal crossing on the Litani river between Sidon and Tyre, cutting the main artery for aid supplies to civilians in the south, security sources said.

One international aid group said Israel was providing no security guarantees, effectively paralyzing its delivery of aid south of the Litani. About 22,000 people remain in the region, less than one fifth of the pre-war population, U.N. figures say.

"Our last remaining supply route into Tyre into the south has been cut," said Christopher Stokes, operations director for the relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

"The Israelis have said they cannot provide a security guarantee that our convoy will not be attacked, so if we move, it will be at our own risk and peril," Stokes said.

U.N. VOTE DELAYED

Hizbollah says it will fight on until Israel stops bombing Lebanon and pulls out its forces.

Opposition from Lebanon caused the United States and France to delay a vote on a U.N. resolution to halt the war. They may submit a revised text after Security Council consultations later in the day.

Lebanon's government has demanded that the U.S.-French draft U.N. resolution include a call for an immediate withdrawal of some 10,000 Israeli troops from its soil.

China and Russia argued the text should take more account of Lebanon's concerns. That prevented Paris and Washington putting the draft into final form which could have cleared the way for a Security Council vote on the resolution on Monday.

Some pro-Western Arab governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, initially criticized Hizbollah for provoking the conflict by snatching two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

But they have toned down their hostility to the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi'ite guerrillas and swung behind Lebanon in response to the death and destruction caused by the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met top defense officials to discuss broadening air and ground attacks on Lebanon in response to Sunday's Hizbollah strikes, political sources said.

Israeli bombing has already pounded Lebanon's roads, bridges, ports, airports and other installations, though power, water and telephone systems are still more or less functioning.

Israel expects the Security Council to pass a resolution this week ending offensive operations by the Jewish state but leaving the door open for air strikes on Hizbollah arms convoys and rocket launching crews, Israeli government officials said.

Al Arabiya television said three Israeli soldiers were killed in battles with guerrillas in the south, where thousands of Israeli troops are trying to push Hizbollah from the border. The Israeli army said one soldier was killed and four wounded.

An Israeli army spokesman said over 400 Hizbollah fighters had been killed. Lebanese security sources say Hizbollah has lost about 90 dead, some 35 more than the group acknowledges.

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