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Hezbollah Missiles Kill 12 As Israel Pushes Into Lebanon

By Richard A. Oppel Jr.
and Steven Erlanger
THE NEW YORK TIMES

MAALOT-TARSHIHA, Israel — The Lebanese militia Hezbollah killed 12 Israelis — eight civilians and four soldiers — on Thursday, making it Israel’s deadliest day in more than three weeks of conflict.

As Israeli troops tried to create a narrow buffer zone inside Lebanon and bombed southern Beirut, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned he would send his long-range missiles into Tel Aviv if the Israelis continued airstrikes.

“If you bomb our capital Beirut, we will bomb the capital of your usurping entity,” he said on Lebanese television. “We will bomb Tel Aviv.” But he also offered to halt Hezbollah’s missile barrage into Israel if it stopped bombing Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the army to begin preparing to push to the Litani River, some 15 miles north of the border, according to Haaretz newspaper, a move that could mean a further call-up of reservist soldiers. That would expand the security zone Israel is trying to create. But it is not clear whether he will receive government approval to do so.

Hezbollah launched more than 100 rockets at northern Israel in less than an hour, with most of the damage on the western edge, in Maalot, its associated Arab Israeli village of Tarshiha, and the Israeli town of Acre.

Five Israelis, including a man and his daughter, were killed in Acre and another three, young Arab Israeli men, were killed when a rocket exploded in Tarshiha. Thirteen people were seriously wounded. Lebanese security officials said that an Israeli missile killed a family of three in the border village of Taibeh.

In Gaza, Israeli forces killed five Palestinian militants and three civilians, including a 12-year-old boy, in fighting on the edges of the southern town of Rafah as Israeli troops searched for tunnels between Egypt and Gaza.

Israeli airplanes struck again at Hezbollah strongholds in southern Beirut, in the Bekaa Valley and in Nabatiye, while four Israeli soldiers were killed and four wounded in intermittently fierce fighting. Three were hit by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah fighters near the southern village of Rajmin and one was killed by an anti-tank missile in Taibe, the Israeli military said. The Israelis said they moved to take over new positions along the border and now control some 20 villages.

The Israelis are trying to create a new defensive line some four to five miles north of the border, recreating a security zone Israel intends to occupy until a multinational force can take its place. The zone is similar to that held by Israel in an occupation that ended in 2000. The government is debating whether to extend that zone northward to the Litani River.

Maj. Zvika Golan, a spokesman for the northern command, said the zone would be expanded. “We are looking to clear 15 kilometers into Lebanon within the next few days,” he said. “We’re going to need more brigades, probably two more, and that will depend on government authorization.” (Fifteen kilometers is about nine miles.)

Adding two more brigades could bring the number of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon to more than 12,000.