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Israel Sends Troops Into Lebanon

Associated Press | July 17, 2006
By MATT MOORE

JERUSALEM

Israeli ground troops entered southern Lebanon to attack Hezbollah bases on the border, but they rapidly returned to Israel after conducting their military operations, officials said Monday.

Israel's six-day-old offensive against Hezbollah following the capture of two Israeli soldiers has been primarily an aerial campaign, but government spokesman, Asaf Shariv, said the Israeli army chief of staff confirmed that ground troops had gone into Lebanon, if only briefly.

Meanwhile, Israeli fighter bombers pummeled Lebanese infrastructure, setting Beirut's port ablaze and hitting a Hezbollah stronghold in attacks that killed at least 17 people.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the deployment of international forces to stop the bombardment of Israel and to persuade the Jewish state to stop attacks on Hezbollah, while the European Union said it was considering the deployment of a peacekeeping force.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also arrived in Syria for talks with the government on the crisis. Syria and Iran have applauded Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, which triggered the offensive.

Also, three rounds of rockets fired by Hezbollah guerrillas struck Haifa, with one destroying a three-story building and wounding at least three people, Israeli medics said.

The medics said other victims may be trapped in the rubble of the building in Israel's third-largest city. The attacks came one day after Hezbollah attack on the port city killed eight people.

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said that a small group of Israeli troops had crossed into Lebanon overnight to attack a Hezbollah position, but then returned to Israel.

"There was a small operation in a very limited area overnight," the official said. "That is over."

Israel has been reluctant to send ground troops into southern Lebanon, an area that officials say has been heavily mined by Hezbollah and could lead to many Israeli casualties.

Israel would also want to quickly withdraw from the area, rather than get involved in a prolonged conflict like its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000. The bloody nature of the fighting at the that time and the high number of casualties finally forced the government to cave into public pressure to withdraw from southern Lebanon and end the contentious occupation.

A Lebanese TV station showed video Monday of an object falling from the sky, but Israel said that reports that it was an Israeli aircraft were false.

The video, aired by Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., showed a burning object spiraling down to the ground in the Jamhour district near the Hezbollah stronghold of southern Beirut, which have been under Israeli air attack for several days.

It described the object as an F-16 fighter jet, while Hezbollah's Al- Manar TV said the aircraft was a helicopter gunship.

But the Israeli army says reports of Israeli aircraft being shot down over Beirut are false, and Israel's Channel 10 TV reported that the object apparently was a container of leaflets that fell from an Israeli military plane.


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