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Israeli warplanes kill U.N. peacekeepers
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes bombarded a U.N. post in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, killing three peacekeepers and leaving another feared dead in a strike that Secretary-General Kofi Annan termed "apparently deliberate."
The bombing capped a violent day that included the death of a 15-year-old Israeli girl from a Hezbollah rocket in a northern Galilee town and renewed Israeli airstrikes in and around Beirut.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today expressed "deep regret" over the killings and said the peacekeepers were killed mistakenly. He spoke on the phone with Annan, expressing dismay over Annan's accusation and promising a thorough investigation, according to Olmert's office.
United Nations officials said their observation post near the village of Khiam took a direct hit late Tuesday in an Israeli airstrike.
One of the dead was identified as Chinese U.N. observer Du Zhaoyu, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. The other three observers were from Austria, Canada and Finland, U.N. and Lebanese military officials said.
Israel U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman expressed his "deep regret" for the deaths and denied the post was intentionally targeted.
Annan flew to Rome to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and diplomats from other nations on the Lebanon crisis. He said he was "shocked and deeply distressed" by what he said was the "apparently deliberate" targeting by the Israeli army.
Annan said he had received personal assurances from Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared.
The U.N. deaths come as Western nations were set to meet today in Rome to discuss a possible cease-fire, response to the growing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, and a possible international peacekeeping force.
The Bush administration's stance that Israel should be allowed to deal a more decisive blow to Hezbollah before any cease-fire did not budge Tuesday.
Rice, in Jerusalem, stood by Olmert as he pledged to "carry on the fight" against Hezbollah. Later, she traveled to Rome for talks.
While visiting the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Rice again turned aside calls from the Lebanese for an immediate cease-fire. She said an "enduring" peace was more important and possible only with the disarming of Hezbollah.
"It is time for a new Middle East," she said, with Olmert nodding at her side.
"Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hezbollah," Olmert said. "We will stop them. We will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of missiles and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose — to kill them."
Mahmoud Komati, deputy chief of Hezbollah's political arm, told The Associated Press the guerrillas had not expected Israel to react with an all-out offensive after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid, the first acknowledgment by the group that it had miscalculated the consequences of the raid two weeks ago.
"The truth is — let me say this clearly — we didn't even expect [this] response ... that [Israel] would exploit this operation for this big war against us," said Komati.
Komati said his group had anticipated negotiations to swap the Israeli soldiers for three Lebanese held in Israeli jails.
"The response is unjustified," Komati said. He claimed the Israeli offensive was planned in advance, and Israel was only "waiting for the right time" to carry it out, a claim repeated by Nasrallah.
Hezbollah commander Sheik Hassan Nasrallah exhibited new defiance late Tuesday. In a televised address, he said his organization would not submit to "humiliating" conditions imposed by the international community for a cease-fire, and threatened attacks even deeper into Israel.
Ground fighting continued today, with Israeli armor and infantry battling guerrillas for control of the Lebanese village of Bint Jbail. The guerrilla group's TV station reported one Israeli soldier killed and five wounded.
Elsewhere in the Mideast, about 50 Israeli tanks moved back into northern Gaza early today, and seven Palestinian gunmen and a young girl were killed in airstrikes as Israel pressed ahead with its nearly monthlong Gaza offensive.
Five Hamas gunmen were among the dead, a spokesman for the group said. Twenty-three people were hurt, including 11 in critical condition, said Dr. Joma Saka, a spokesman for Gaza City's Shifa Hospital.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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