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Heavy Fighting Reported on Israel-Lebanon Border


At least two Israeli troops were wounded, today, in heavy fighting with Hezbollah militants, as Israeli air strikes continued in Lebanon and Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel. More than 300 people, nearly all civilians, have died in Lebanon and at least 15 civilians have been killed in Israel by Hezbollah rockets, since fighting began nine days ago. Hezbollah militants continued rocket attacks in Israel, Thursday, striking the cities of Haifa and Tiberias.

For the second day in a row, there was ground fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops in Lebanese territory.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says Israeli troops are reluctant to enter Lebanon where they could face a disadvantage against Hezbollah forces.

"We know exactly what this can bring about. We know what mayhem this can cause. And, this is precisely what we want to avoid. We do not want to be dragged into this. This is precisely what Hezbollah is trying to do, to drag us into a ground battle, because they know they have an advantage as a guerrilla organization."

Today's Israeli air strikes targeted Beirut's southern suburbs, where Israeli warplanes Wednesday dropped 23 tons of explosives on what Israeli officials say was a bunker used by senior Hezbollah leaders. Hezbollah says the target was a mosque -- a charge denied by Israeli officials.

Lebanon's prime minister says the bombing has. in his words. "torn the country into shreds."

Nearly all of the casualties in Lebanon have been civilian casualties. Yigal Palmor of Israel's foreign ministry says that is because Hezbollah has based its operations in civilian areas.

"We never target civilian objectives. However, Hezbollah has been using the population as a human shield. They have been storing weapons and rockets in civilian homes and buildings and they have been firing rockets from within villages and civilian population centers."

Lebanese officials say more than 500,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting. Lebanon is appealing for international assistance. A small contingent of U.S. Marines is in Lebanon to help evacuate more than 1,000 American citizens. Other Western nations are continuing to evacuate their citizens to Cyprus.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the bombing will continue, as long as Hezbollah continues to hold two Israeli soldiers it captured last week, and until the Lebanese Army moves into southern Lebanon -- into positions now occupied by Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Israel dropped leaflets across the Gaza Strip, today, warning Palestinians that anyone hiding weapons will be targeted. Shortly afterwards, Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian militants in central Gaza.

Israel also carried out an air strike in the area. Palestinian authorities say several Palestinians were killed in the exchange.

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