Israel pummelled south Lebanon with air and artillery strikes yesterday, but opted against launching a major invasion in pursuit of Hezbollah guerrillas.
A rocket fired into northern Israel by the guerrillas struck a factory yesterday, causing a possible toxic leak, but there was no immediate word of casualties, Israeli security sources.
In Lebanon, bodies lay in the streets in some isolated border villages, where the fighting has trapped terrified civilians, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
"In every fight, we are sheep for the slaughter," said Hafez Ebeid, 65, who had fled his border village of Marwaheen to the relative safety of Sidon, the biggest city in the south.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet decided to stick with a strategy of air strikes and limited ground incursions rather than mounting a full-scale invasion.
"At the moment the army is not bound by time, it can act as long as needed," a political source said after the meeting.
It convened a day after nine Israeli soldiers were killed in Lebanon, the army's heaviest one-day loss in the 16-day-old war.
Israeli forces have been trying to push Hezbollah back from the border and end rocket attacks since the Shi'ite group captured two soldiers in a raid on July 12, but the army is wary of getting bogged down by guerrilla warfare in south Lebanon.
The United States has given Israel a green light to pursue its assault on Lebanon by refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire or to let the UN Security Council do so.
France pushes for ceasefire
France said it was disappointed an international conference in Rome on Wednesday had failed to call for an immediate end to hostilities and urged UN Security Council foreign ministers to meet early next week to work on a ceasefire resolution.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Beirut and Jerusalem this week, said she would return to the Middle East if she thought she could clinch a lasting peace in Lebanon.
Her comments, made on arrival in Malaysia for a regional security conference, underlined Washington's intention not to press Israel to stop fighting until Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Iran and Syria have been brought under control.
"I am willing and ready to go back to the Middle East at any time that I think we can move towards a sustainable ceasefire that can end the violence," Rice told a news conference.
She earlier warned Iran and Syria they face further isolation if they try to "torpedo" US efforts to end the fighting on Israel's terms. "This needs to be between Lebanon and Israel," she said en route from Rome to Malaysia.
Al-Zawahri: Al-Qaida won't stand by
With anger among Arabs and Muslims mounting over Israel's offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, al-Qaida declared it would not stand by, but did not say how it would respond.
"How can we remain silent while watching bombs raining on our people?" asked al-Qaida's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a videotape on Al-Jazeera television. He urged Muslims to fight.
At least 434 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Lebanon, where a humanitarian crisis has exploded. Fifty-one Israelis, including 18 civilians, have been killed.
An ICRC report said one of its delegates who had visited Blida, near the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, had found about 700 people, including 300 children, sheltering in a mosque.
Villagers were running short of water, food and medicine, displaced people were huddled in schools and patients stranded in hospitals. "Dead bodies had not been removed from the streets and others were still buried in rubble," the ICRC said.
Israeli planes destroyed radio masts north of Beirut and hit three trucks carrying relief goods in east Lebanon, killing two drivers, security sources said. Warplanes and artillery blasted targets in the mainly Shi'ite south, killing a motorcyclist.
Dozens of Hezbollah rockets landed in northern Israel, wounding at least one person, Israeli emergency services said.
Israelis believe offensive justified
An opinion poll published yesterday showed 95 per cent of Israelis still believed the offensive in Lebanon was justified.
The Lebanon conflict has largely overshadowed separate fighting in the Gaza Strip, which shows no sign of slackening.
Israeli attacks killed three people, including a 75-year-old woman, in Gaza yesterday, medics said, a day after clashes in which 24 Palestinians died. Israel has killed 146 Gazans in a month-long offensive to recover a soldier seized by militants.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said France envisaged a UN resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the unconditional release of its two Israeli captives and creation of a security buffer zone in south Lebanon.
He said France was also pushing for the release of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, deployment of the Lebanese army in the south and guarantees of respect for Lebanese sovereignty.
A UN-mandated multinational peacekeeping force could only be sent to the border if there was a lasting ceasefire, he said.
Source: China Daily