Sporadic bombardments were heard around the town of Bint Jbeil, Hezbollah’s main military base near the border, where the Israeli army has met bitter resistance from Shiite militants over the past five days.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said 26 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in Bint Jbeil but declined to say whether the Israeli army had taken any fighters prisoner during battles there.
Israeli forces took up position on two hilltops overlooking Bint Jbeil where troops have been battling Hezbollah forces trying to stop their advance and bombarded the nearby village of Aitarun with 150 rockets, police said.
They added that the Israeli army was also moving the positions it set up at the southern entry to Bint Jbeil back towards the frontier village of Marun al-Ras, which it has held for several days. There was no other confirmation of the report.
As the Israeli army ploughed on with its ground incursion, the air force carried out more deadly air raids across the south and in eastern Lebanon, killing 10 people.
The air force carried out more than 27 raids at dawn in areas to the east of Tyre, which were also hit by some 300 shells fired by Israeli artillery.
Among the dead were a Lebanese couple whose bodies were retrieved from under the rubble of a house in Kfar Joz, where four civilians, including three children, were also wounded in the Israeli strikes.
A Jordanian cameraman for the German television station N24 and his Lebanese driver were wounded during fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.
They were following a 50-vehicle convoy organised by the Australian Embassy in Israel and led by the Lebanese Red Cross that was transporting evacuees, including foreign nationals, trying to flee the border village of Rameish which has been caught in the crossfire.
An Israeli Defence spokesperson said Australian officials were warned three times that it was unsafe for the convoy to travel through southern Lebanon.
Israel’s security cabinet decided on Thursday to step up its military campaign against Hezbollah, a day after an international crisis meeting in Rome failed to secure a ceasefire.
After initially vowing to destroy Hezbollah, Israel is now seeking to expel the militia from a two-kilometre strip along Lebanon’s side of the border and occupy the zone until a mooted international force can take over.
Since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon after 22-years of occupation in
2000, Hezbollah is believed to have dug an extensive network of bunkers and tunnels in the area.
After bloody attacks by both Israeli forces and the Hezbollah guerrillas, eight unarmed UN military observers have been temporarily relocated from border positions in southern Lebanon as a precaution.
“We decided to relocate the observers temporarily to UNIFIL positions in southern Lebanon for safety reasons,” Milos Strugar, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, said.
Four UN observers were killed earlier this week in an Israeli bombardment of their post, provoking international outrage although Israel denied the position was deliberately targeted.
Hezbollah fires ‘heavy’ rockets
Israeli police said an “unknown” heavy-warhead missile, capable of carrying 100kg of explosives, was among five that landed in Afula, 50km south of the border with Lebanon.
No casualties were caused in the attack.
Hezbollah said it had fired for the first time a salvo of what it called “Khaibar I” missiles “on the Zionist region of Afula, beyond Haifa”.
The strike came after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his guerrillas would fire rockets at Israel beyond the northern city of Haifa, after so far using only shorter-range Katyusha rockets against Israel.
The attack also came on the day the Israeli military said it would deploy
Patriot anti-missile batteries near Tel Aviv — Israel’s largest city — if
Hezbollah used long-range missiles.