Israel clashes with Hezbollah guerrillas on border: at least 2 soldiers wounded

The Israeli army said Hezbollah guerrillas wounded at least two Israeli soldiers in heavy fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, but it was not immediately clear what caused the clashes.

Hezbollah said in a statement that its guerrillas foiled a new Israeli attempt to stage a ground attack and destroyed two Israeli tanks. It claimed to have repelled Israeli ground forces as they tried to enter the Lebanese border village of Maroun al-Ras early Thursday.

On Wednesday, Israeli troops clashed with Hezbollah guerrillas on the Lebanese side of the border, near the coastal border town of Naqoura, after they crossed the border before dawn to look for guerrilla tunnels and weapons. The Israeli army said two soldiers had been killed and nine wounded in that fighting, while Hezbollah said one guerrilla was killed, according to the AP.

Israel has mainly limited itself to attacks from the air and sea in its offensive that was launched after Hezbollah launched a July 12 cross-border attack on an Israeli military patrol and captured two soldiers.

It had been reluctant to send in ground troops because Hezbollah is far more familiar with the terrain and because of memories of Israel's ill-fated 18-year occupation of south Lebanon that ended in 2000.

Israeli warplanes also launched new airstrikes on Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, shortly after daybreak Thursday, according to witnesses and Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.

The reported attack on the Bir al-Abed neighborhood followed a relatively quiet night in the capital after the Wednesday evening attack by Israeli warplanes on what the military believed was a bunker used by senior Hezbollah leaders. No damage or casualties were immediately reported in the attack on Bir al-Abed.

Israeli warplanes also hit two bridges near the southern coastal town of Rumeileh early Thursday, security officials said.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said that aircraft dropped 23 tons of explosives on the target in the Bourj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut between 8 and 9 p.m. (1700-1800 GMT). Reporters in Beirut said they heard a huge explosion around 8:30 p.m.

Soon after, Hezbollah issued a statement saying "no Hezbollah leaders or elements were killed in the strike," but a building under construction to be a mosque was hit.

Interviewed on CNN early Thursday, Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said Israel would not issue a statement about the attack until it is sure of all the facts. But he added, "I can assure you that we know exactly what we hit. ... This was no religious site. This was indeed the headquarters of the Hezbollah leadership."

Hezbollah has a headquarters compound in Bourj al-Barajneh that is off limits to the Lebanese police and army, so security officials could not confirm the strike. Hezbollah media made no immediate mention of any attack.

Israel has said that one of the objects of its offensive in Lebanon is to eliminate Hezbollah leaders.

Lebanon's embattled Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said 300 people had been killed in his country as fighting entered its second week.

Saniora issued an urgent appeal Wednesday for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, saying his country "has been torn to shreds" by the devastating Israeli military offensive launched July 12 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack. He demanded compensation from Israel for "barbaric destruction" and "immeasurable loss."

Saniora, whose weak government has been unable to fulfill a U.N. directive to disarm Hezbollah and put its army along the border with Israel, pointedly criticized the U.S. position that Israel acts in self-defense.

The Lebanese leader's appeal came as international pressure mounted on Israel and the United States to agree to a cease-fire. The rising death toll and scope of the destruction deepened a rift between the U.S. and Europe, and humanitarian agencies were sounding the alarm over a pending catastrophe with a half million people displaced in Lebanon. Thousands of foreigners, including 1,000 Americans on a rented cruise ship, fled in one of the largest evacuation operations since World War II.

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