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Google News 21/7/2006
Israel pounds Lebanon, civilians fear worse to come
By Alaa Shahine
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanon and soldiers clashed with Hizbollah guerrillas along the border on Thursday as U.S. Marines landed near Beirut to rescue 1,200 Americans trapped by the fighting.
Frightened civilians in Lebanon feared the bombing would get worse once the evacuation of thousands of foreign nationals is completed.
Dozens of aircraft dropped 23 tons of explosives on a building in Beirut's southern suburbs where the army said it suspected senior Hizbollah leaders were holed up. The guerrilla group, however, denied any of its leaders or members were killed during the raid which it said hit a mosque under construction.
The Israeli army said its soldiers were fighting Hizbollah guerrillas at two places along the border. Hizbollah said it was clashing with Israeli forces near the border.
Sixty-three Lebanese civilians were killed in air strikes on Wednesday, the deadliest toll in the nine-day war triggered in retaliation to Hizbollah's July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border operation.
Hizbollah rockets killed two children in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, medics said. More rockets fell on the city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant.
And despite international concern, there was no sign Israel or its Lebanese Shi'ite foes were ready to heed the Beirut government's pleas for an immediate halt to a war that has killed at least 299 people in Lebanon and 29 in Israel.
"I have a very bad feeling that after the foreigners flee the bombings will get worse," said 37-year old Ziad Nayef, a costume designer. "Nobody cares about Arab lives."
Apart from the southern suburbs, Israel has already hit Beirut's port and a lighthouse on its seafront. It also targeted two trucks with well-drilling gear in the Christian district of Ashrafiya but caused no injuries.
About 1,100 American evacuees who left Beirut by sea and air reached Cyprus on Wednesday, the largest group of U.S. citizens to have been rescued from Lebanon in a single day. U.S. Marines landed on a Beirut beach on Thursday to evacuate more Americans, returning to a city where 241 Marines and other U.S. service personnel were killed in 1983 by a Hizbollah truck bomb.
France said about 8,000 of its 17,000 citizens resident in Lebanon had asked to be evacuated. Germany sent at least 500 citizens by bus to Syria.
The Israeli Maariv newspaper's NRG Web site quoted a senior military source as saying that Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was believed to be in the southern Beirut bunker during the air strike.
But Hizbollah said the Israeli statements showed "the enemy was trying to cover its military and security failures with lies and claims of fictitious achievements".
Another loud explosion was heard across Beirut just after sunrise and television footage showed clouds of smoke billowing from the Shi'ite-Muslim dominated suburbs. Previous Israeli raids had flattened Hizbollah's headquarters in the area.
Israeli troops crossed the border on Wednesday and the army said two of its soldiers were killed and nine injured in fighting with Hizbollah guerrillas.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said more than 500,000 people had been displaced and appealed for international help.
"I call on you to respond immediately and without reservation to our call for a ceasefire and to provide urgent international humanitarian aid," he said in a televised address.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the bombardment would last "as long as necessary" to free the two soldiers captured by Hizbollah and ensure its militants are disarmed.
Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to swap the two soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli jails.
The scale of the bombardment prompted many Lebanese, while still blaming Hizbollah for triggering the conflict, to shift their anger to the Jewish state's "excessive use of force".
"They are not just hitting Hizbollah, aren't they?" said 58-year old Ali Essa, a Sunni Muslim who closed his supermarket in Ashrafiya and fled to western Beirut.
"They are targeting civilians and factories and the world is watching. The American government is the biggest criminal in the world for allowing them to strike us with U.S.-made weapons."
At least 17 Lebanese, including several children, were killed and 30 wounded in an Israeli air strike that destroyed houses in the southern village of Srifa, residents said.
At least 46 other civilians were killed in air strikes that hammered other parts of south and east Lebanon, security sources said. Hizbollah said one of its fighters was killed.
The Jewish state's offensive in Lebanon has coincided with a three-week-old push into the Gaza Strip to retrieve another soldier, seized by Palestinian militants on June 25.
Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinians in clashes in Gaza -- five militants and five civilians -- and another five were killed in the occupied West Bank. About 60 Palestinians, including 10 children, were wounded, medics said.
(Additional reporting by Dean Yates in Jerusalem)