BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israeli troops thrust deeper into Lebanon on Wednesday and were reported to have lost four dead to Hizbollah rocket fire as Israel’s inner cabinet debated whether to order a bigger advance before any U.N. move to end the war.
A vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution may not take place before Thursday because of wrangling over its content.
Lebanese security sources said Israeli forces pushed west from Taibeh, some 5 km (3 miles) from the border, toward the village of Qantara and north toward Burj al-Molouk and Qlaiah villages. The sources also reported fighting near the town of Bint Jbeil and the village of Aita al-Shaab.
Al Arabiya television said four Israeli soldiers had been killed by Hizbollah rocket fire near Aita al-Shaab.
Hizbollah said it had inflicted at least 10 casualties and knocked out four tanks in battles around Qantara and elsewhere. It did not say if its own fighters had suffered any losses.
Israel’s army, which has about 10,000 troops inside Lebanon, reported fighting near Qantara, but had no word on casualties.
Small-arms fire, interspersed by the thud of mortar bombs and artillery shells, echoed in the hills along the border.
Residents in the southern town of Marjayoun reported the fiercest night of bombardment in the surrounding area.
Israeli planes bombed targets across Lebanon. Five people died in a raid that hit the home of a local Hizbollah official in the Bekaa Valley town of Mashghara, medics said.
Two people were killed in air strikes on a position of the Palestinian Fatah movement in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the coastal city of Sidon, hospital sources said.
The death toll from an air raid on a south Beirut suburb on Monday rose to 41, police said. Sixty-one people were also wounded in the strike that destroyed a residential building and damaged others in the mainly Shi’ite Shiyah district. The toll, previously at 30, could still rise as more rubble is removed.
At least 1,005 people in Lebanon and 101 Israelis have been killed in four weeks of bloodshed sparked when Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
The United Nations has yet to act to halt the conflict.
An Arab League delegation warned that civil war could erupt in Lebanon if Beirut’s terms were not met. Lebanon wants an immediate ceasefire and a quick withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south, where it says 15,000 Lebanese soldiers backed by U.N. peacekeepers can deploy to stabilize the area.
Israel, planning to pull out only when a foreign force and the Lebanese army take over to keep Hizbollah at bay, has vowed in the absence of agreement to expand an offensive in south Lebanon to curb Hizbollah’s rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
More rockets hit northern Israel and four landed in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. No casualties were reported.
Hizbollah said it had fired “Khaibar 1” rockets at the Israeli town of Beit Shean, not far from the West Bank.
A deeper Israeli advance into Lebanon could step up pressure for a deal on terms that suits Israel and its ally Washington, but it could also cost Israel more casualties, without necessarily halting Hizbollah rocket fire.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s inner security cabinet met to discuss pushing to the Litani river, some 20 km (13 miles) inside Lebanon, and possibly beyond. Israel’s top officers and defense minister favor the plan, hoping to damage Hizbollah as much as possible before a ceasefire takes hold.
“The rockets must be eliminated and we must leave a fenced and clear area … into which the multinational force will enter,” cabinet minister Gideon Ezra told the Ynetnews Web site.
At the United Nations, Arab League envoys pushed for changes to a U.S.-French draft resolution which Lebanon has rejected even before its submission to the Security Council.
“If we adopt the resolution without fully considering the reality of Lebanon, we will face a (new Lebanese) civil war,” said Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. “Instead of helping Lebanon, we will destroy Lebanon.”
France and the United States are now revising their draft. They are debating what kind of an international force should be formed to back the Lebanese army and when it should deploy.
U.S. officials say the army is too weak to subdue Hizbollah.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Beirut’s offer to send troops to the south was significant but called on Lebanon to guarantee the simultaneous withdrawal of Hizbollah.