BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes continued to pound Lebanon yesterday, and frightened civilians fear the situation will worsen once thousands of foreign nationals are evacuated.
US Marines, aided by Lebanese soldiers, landed near Beirut at dawn and by midday had carried to a troop carrier about half of the 1,200 Americans, including many children, expected to be evacuated yesterday.
It was the US military's first return to Lebanon since it withdrew in 1984, months after a Shi'ite Muslim suicide bomber destroyed a Marine barracks killing 241 US service personnel.
The United States said it could evacuate up to 6,000 Americans from Lebanon by today. Nine military ships, including a helicopter carrier, were involved in the operation.
Dozens of Israeli aircraft dropped 23 tons of explosives on a building in Beirut's southern suburbs where the army said it suspected senior Hezbollah 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.
Thousands of Israeli bombs have fallen on Lebanon's homes, roads, bridges, ports, broadcasting towers and even a lighthouse in the past week.
Sixty-three Lebanese civilians were killed in air strikes on Wednesday, the deadliest toll in the nine-day war triggered in retaliation to Hezbollah's July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border operation.
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.
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.
Russia sharply criticized Israel over its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon yesterday, saying its actions have gone "far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation" and repeating calls for an immediate ceasefire.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that Russia affirms the need to fight terrorism and called for the immediate release of Israeli hostages, but added that "the unprecedented scale of the casualties and destruction" in Lebanon indicate that Israel is using too much force.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud said that an international force would be the best solution for Lebanon.
"We cannot tolerate Israel's playing with the lives of citizens, civilians, women, the elderly and children," he said after meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris yesterday.
Source: China Daily/agencies