Israeli forces thrust deeper into Lebanon against fierce Hizbollah resistance on Saturday and air strikes killed up to 19 people, hours after the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to end the month-old war.
After the unanimous council vote on Friday night, Israel launched an expanded ground offensive in the south, even though Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he backed the resolution.
Relief officials said Israel was still denying access for aid convoys to distressed civilians despite the resolution.
Israeli troops pushed west to Ghandouriyeh, a village 11 km (7 miles) inside Lebanon, their furthest penetration yet, security sources said. Hizbollah said it ambushed them there.
Its statement was a tacit acknowledgement that the Israelis had forced their way through Hizbollah resistance at the village of Qantara, east of Ghandouriyeh. The guerrilla group said it had destroyed seven tanks. The Israeli army said one was hit.
Air strikes in the south killed up to 15 people in the village of Rshaf, security sources said, and four civilians were killed when a pickup truck was hit in Kharayeb.
Israeli bombs also hit Beirut’s suburbs, roads in the north, electricity pylons near Sidon, the Beirut-Damascus highway and the southern city of Tyre, witnesses and security sources said.
The U.N. resolution called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” and authorized up to 15,000 U.N. troops to move in to enforce a ceasefire. It said Hizbollah must halt all attacks and Israel must stop “all offensive military operations”.
Lebanon accepted the resolution and officials said the cabinet, which contains two Hizbollah loyalists, would confirm this at a meeting later in the day. The Shi’ite Muslim guerrilla group has made no comment on the U.N. vote.
Olmert told President Bush he supported it and “thanked him for his assistance in keeping Israeli interests in mind at the Security Council”, an Israeli official said.
Olmert will urge his cabinet to approve the resolution at a meeting on Sunday, but an Israeli official said the army would not stop its Lebanon offensive before Sunday’s cabinet session.
Hours before the U.N. vote, Israeli aircraft fired rockets at a convoy of hundreds of civilian cars fleeing the south, killing at least seven people and wounding 36, the Lebanese Red Cross said. Israel said the attack was a mistake.
At least 1,060 people in Lebanon and 124 Israelis have been killed in the war that began after Hizbollah guerillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
The planned U.N. force will monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops and help the Lebanese army maintain a ceasefire.
The resolution stipulates that after fighting stops, Israel must withdraw all its forces from Lebanon at the earliest opportunity, in tandem with a U.N.-Lebanese troop deployment.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would help the parties over the weekend to establish a timetable for this.
He chastised the council for not acting sooner to halt the conflict and stop civilian suffering, saying this had “badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity”.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned no one could expect the resolution to end all violence, saying: “The conditions of a lasting peace must be nurtured over time.”
Aid agencies grappling with a humanitarian crisis created by the war said the U.N. vote had made no difference yet.
The U.N. World Food Programme said Israel had denied safe passage to aid convoys anywhere in Lebanon and refused to allow a ship bearing aid from Cyprus to sail through a naval blockade.
“We have not got concurrence from the Israeli army on any convoys at all, north, south or anywhere in the country,” said WFP spokesman David Orr. “Despite the political agreement, we have ground to a halt.”
Relief agencies have been seeking access to an estimated 100,000 people trapped in the south. The mayor of Tyre said on Friday the city could run out of food in two days.
The resolution empowers the U.N. force, expected to be led by France, to take “all necessary action” to fulfil its mission.
French President Jacques Chirac urged all parties to halt hostilities immediately and respect the resolution.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the resolution and said he planned to visit the Middle East soon to search for ways to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We must work to address the underlying root causes of this conflict,” he said in a statement. “We must never lose sight of the fact that the conflict in Lebanon arose out of the desire to exploit the continuing impasse in Palestine.”
(Additional reporting by Jerusalem and New York bureaus)
© Reuters 2006