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Monday, July 24, 2006

Hezbollah fights back

AP Photo: An Israeli soldier walks past a fire
surrounding an artillery range after a Hezbollah

Israel faces fierce battles with Hezbollah

By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writers 34 minutes ago

SIDON, Lebanon - Mideast diplomats were pressing Syria to stop backing Hezbollah as the guerrillas fired more deadly rockets onto Israel's third-largest city Sunday. Israel faced tougher-than-expected ground battles and bombarded targets in southern Lebanon, hitting a convoy of refugees.

Israel's defense minister said his country would accept an international force, preferably NATO, on its border after it drives back or weakens Hezbollah. But his troops described the militants they encountered as a smart, well-organized and ruthless guerrilla force whose fighters do not seem afraid to die.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview published Monday that an Israeli ground invasion would not prevent the Shiite militant group from firing rockets into Israel. But he said he was open to discussing initiatives.

Israeli ground forces made another foray into Lebanon at daybreak Monday, taking control of the area around the town of Bint Jbail — known as a stronghold of Hezbollah guerrillas — after a heavy overnight artillery barrage in the area, the army said.

Several soldiers were wounded in the fighting, the military said, giving no further details. Israeli media reports said a number of guerrillas were also wounded.

With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arriving in Israel on Monday, both the Arabs and Israelis appeared to be trying to set out positions ahead of Washington's first diplomatic mission to the region since the fighting began. Rice said Sunday the United States' poor relationship with Syria is overstated and indicated an openness to working with Damascus to resolve the crisis.

The United States backs Israel's refusal to talk about a cease-fire until it completes the military campaign against Hezbollah, but is under increasing pressure to foster a plan to end the growing suffering and destruction in Lebanon.

Still, daily casualty figures appeared to be falling — about nine confirmed Sunday by Lebanese security officials, compared with dozens each day earlier in the week. The decrease could be a result of the exodus from the hardest-hit areas or because of the difficulty in getting figures from the war zone.

In the 12th day of fighting, guerrillas launched more than a dozen rockets at the Israeli city of Haifa, killing two people. Israeli missiles struck a convoy of fleeing Lebanese, killing four people, including a journalist.

In the far south, fighting with Hezbollah raged around the Israeli military's foothold in Lebanon — the border village of Maroun al-Ras, where the Israeli army has maintained a significant presence since Saturday. But so far they were not advancing. Hezbollah reported three of its fighters killed.

Israeli military officials said their forces captured two Hezbollah guerrillas on Sunday. Israel Army Radio said they were the first prisoners Israel has taken in this offensive.

Arab heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia were pushing Syria to end its support for the guerrillas, Arab diplomats in Cairo said.

A loss of Syria's support would deeply weaken Hezbollah, though its other ally,
Iran, gives it a large part of its money and weapons. The two moderate Arab governments were prepared to spend heavily from Egypt's political capital in the region and Saudi Arabia's vast financial reserves to break Damascus from the guerrillas and Iran, the diplomats said.

Syria said it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting — but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include the return of the Golan Heights. Israel was unlikely to accept such terms but it was the first indication of Syria's willingness to be involved in efforts to defuse the crisis.

How much of a buzzsaw has Israel run into?

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel was interested in a NATO-led force, and the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, spoke of one consisting of European Union members with combat experience and the authority to take control of Lebanon’s border and crossing points.

American officials said they were open to the idea but did not expect American troops to be part of the force. “It’s a new idea, we’ll certainly take it seriously,” John R. Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

In Washington, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with a delegation from Saudi Arabia, and officials on both sides said the makeup of a potential international peacekeeping force was discussed. [Page A8.]

Israel and the United States initially responded skeptically to the idea of an international force, first proposed last Monday by Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France were in Israel on Sunday and Ms. Rice was scheduled to arrive Monday. She is expected to go to Rome later in the week for a conference aimed at ending the fighting.

While the Israelis and Americans seemed increasingly focused on a multinational force for southern Lebanon that would work with the Lebanese Army to remove the risk to Israel of Hezbollah, it remained unclear how the European countries whose forces would participate would react and how Arab countries viewed the idea.

Wow, Hezbollah is hard to defeat. I mean, it's not like they're fighting a sworn enemy on their home ground or anything after years of training.

Didn't anyone in the IDF think that Hezbollah has been waiting for this moment to fight Israel to a standstill, or at least kill a bunch of IDF soldiers? Now will people realize shock and awe is like every other Air Force war plan, highly flawed against ground troops.

It's called getting something for nothing. The fact is that Syria might like a deal, but Egypt is facing opposition from it's own people about Israel's shock and awe in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia has to fear some of those same missiles coming from Iran. But the reality is that neither country can protect them from Israel or US bombs and Iran can.

They bomb Syria, the US in Iraq suddenly faces a Shia uprising, courtesy of Iran. Besides, Iraq isn't going to be a US ally much longer.

posted by Steve @ 3:24:00 AM

3:24:00 AM

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