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Battles rage as negotiators try to keep U.N. plan alive

Israel calls a Lebanese proposal for deploying up to 15,000 peacekeepers "interesting.''

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 9, 2006

TYRE, Lebanon - Israel shut down south Lebanon with a threat to blast any moving vehicles Tuesday as ground fighting intensified, airstrikes killed at least 19 civilians and Arab governments called for a full Israeli withdrawal as a condition of any cease-fire.

With U.S., French and Arab negotiators meeting into the evening at the United Nations, Israel voiced cautious interest in a Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 soldiers to control the ground in south Lebanon where Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel. But the warring sides appeared to be some distance apart on the text of a possible resolution, now not expected to come before the Security Council before Thursday.

After four weeks of fighting, nearly 800 people have died on both sides. Rescuers in Lebanon pulled 28 additional corpses from the wreckage of Monday's attacks, raising that day's toll to 77 Lebanese - the deadliest single day of the war.

Early Wednesday, Israeli's military targeted Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp from the air, killing at least one person and wounding three others. Lebanese and Palestinian officials said an Israeli gunship shelled the Ein el-Hilweh camp, but Israel's military called the attack an airstrike against a house used by Hezbollah guerrillas.

In Tyre, part of the south Lebanon region where Israel declared the no-drive zone, only pedestrians ventured into the streets. Country roads and highways were deserted throughout the region because of the Israeli threat. Although Israel said it would not attack humanitarian convoys, the U.N. was not taking any chances.

At least 160 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel, most of them in and around the towns of Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona, Maalot, Safed. No Israeli civilians were killed.

Some of the fiercest ground fighting raged around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. Three Israeli soldiers were killed there Tuesday, the military said, claiming 35 Hezbollah guerrillas died in the fighting. Hezbollah would not confirm any deaths.

The issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants have been operating in their fight against Israel, has become the dominant sticking point in cease-fire negotiations at the United Nations.

Israeli ground troops are in the area, and Lebanon and other Arab nations are insisting they must leave when a cease-fire agreement is reached.

Both Israel and the United States issued positive, if lukewarm, assessments Tuesday of the Lebanese government's plan to dispatch 15,000 soldiers into south Lebanon after a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

"It looks interesting and we will examine it closely," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

The U.N. Security Council put off for at least one day voting on a U.S.-French cease-fire proposal to allow three leading Arab officials to present arguments that the resolution was heavily tilted in favor of Israel and did not "take Lebanon's interest and stability into account." Both the U.S. and French envoys to the U.N. indicated there might be room for limited compromise.

[Last modified August 9, 2006, 01:06:17]


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