JERUSALEM—Israeli jets attacked Beirut's southern outskirts Tuesday and a U.N. border post in southern Lebanon, where two and possibly four U.N. soldiers were killed. Hezbollah rockets struck northern Israel again as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left the region without pressing for an immediate cease-fire.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting" of the U.N. post. Two U.N. military observers were dead and two others were feared dead, Annan said in a statement Tuesday night.
He said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had assured him that U.N. positions would be spared, and the U.N. force commander, Gen. Alain Pelligrini, had been in contact with Israeli officers throughout the day stressing the need to protect the post.
The Israeli military said it was investigating and had no immediate comment.
At Rice's urging, Israel announced that it would allow humanitarian relief to flow to Lebanon, including permitting aid flights into Beirut's battered airport—provided there is "advance coordination"—and setting up land corridors in Lebanon and between Israel and Lebanon.
The announcement appeared to be an acknowledgement that the fighting between Hezbollah's Islamic militants and Israel isn't likely to end soon. Israeli leaders who met with Rice gave no indication that they were ready for a cease-fire, and there was no indication that she pressed them to accept one before leaving to attend an international conference on Lebanon in Rome on Wednesday.
Annan, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and 17 foreign ministers, primarily from European and Arab nations, also will attend the conference.
Indeed, hopes that an international force would bring an early end to the fighting receded Tuesday.
One suggestion had been strengthening the U.N. presence. The killing of the observers called that into question. Annan demanded that there be no further attacks on U.N. personnel. He didn't immediately release the names and nationalities of those killed.
Also, U.S. and Israeli officials indicated that Islamic militants in southern Lebanon would have to be disarmed or driven out of range of Israel before an international force could be deployed.
Some countries have balked at contributing troops to a peacekeeping force unless Hezbollah is disarmed first. Rice has said the United States won't send troops to Lebanon.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said in Jerusalem that Israeli forces would retain control of a security zone in southern Lebanon until an international force, which has yet to be agreed on or assembled, could take control.
"Israel cannot finish this with the same threat that it faced at the outset," Olmert told a North American Jewish group after talks with Rice. "We will not stop until there is a change, despite the difficulty and the pain we face."
Senior U.S. officials said they were crafting a long-term strategy to ensure that Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group that Washington designates a terrorist organization, couldn't destabilize Lebanon and threaten Israel.
It would include disarming Hezbollah, deploying the proposed international peacekeeping force, giving economic support to Lebanon's wobbly government and measures to strengthen its weak armed forces, and perhaps new sanctions on nations such as Iran and Syria if they continue to arm Hezbollah.
But it remains unclear how Hezbollah, a social, political and religious movement as well as a terrorist organization that's entrenched in southern Lebanon, would be disarmed. Nor is there agreement on which countries would contribute to the international force or what its rules of engagement would be.
"Objectively, this is going to be hard to do," Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said.
The fighting has displaced an estimated 800,000 people in Lebanon, and the government said the civilian death toll was about 400, with 3,000 wounded. Forty-three Israelis, most of them soldiers, have been killed.
The war began after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers July 12 and began firing rockets into northern Israel.
Rice's meetings in Jerusalem came amid fresh volleys of Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel.
Tuesday afternoon, a Hezbollah rocket packed with ball bearings exploded in the Israeli Arab village of Maghar, killing a 15-year-old Druze girl and wounding three others, police said. Rockets also slammed into the northern port city of Haifa, where an elderly man died of a heart attack while scrambling for safety in a bomb shelter.
Within hours of the attacks, Israeli fighters bombed parts of Lebanon, hitting buildings in Hezbollah's southern Beirut stronghold and rocket launchers in Tyre.
The Israeli military said its tanks and ground forces in southern Lebanon had succeeded in encircling Bint Jbail, described as a Hezbollah stronghold.
In Beirut, Nayla Moawad, Lebanon's minister of social affairs, said the government had turned 635 schools and public buildings into refugee camps, but still faced a severe shortage of space.
Moawad said the biggest obstacle to aid was Israel's blockade. Several trucks loaded with humanitarian aid are stuck at the Syrian border because Israeli forces fire on large vehicles, she said. Two Red Cross ambulance drivers were killed in Israeli attacks Monday.
Syria and Iran use trucks to deliver weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah.
After meeting Olmert, Rice traveled to the West Bank city of Ramallah to confer with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and assure him that the United States isn't neglecting the Palestinians, who've been overshadowed by the Lebanon fighting.
Abbas welcomed Rice, but urged an immediate end to Israeli military operations in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, which he said "is being destroyed at this very moment."
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Hannah Allam in Beirut contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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