Hezbollah rockets kill 15

Israel suffers deadliest day in fighting

at least 20 die in Lebanon


JERUSALEM -- Israel absorbed the heaviest blow of its nearly monthlong war with Hezbollah yesterday, with a dozen reservists killed in a rocket strike at a military staging area and at least three people killed and dozens hurt by a volley that exploded in the heart of Haifa.

Amid the growing bloodshed, Israel signaled determination to seize the battlefield advantage while United Nations action is pending on a cease-fire proposal crafted by the United States and France.

Israeli warplanes struck targets across Lebanon, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens. Near-constant artillery barrages thundered across the border. Hezbollah guerrillas fired more than 160 rockets into northern Israel and fought Israeli troops in close combat in a string of villages near the frontier.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned yesterday that the U.N. resolution might not curtail the fighting immediately.

"I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence ... the firing of rockets that needs to stop for the next phase," Rice said. But she added, "We can't rule out that there could be skirmishes for some time to come."

Rice said she hoped for a vote on the resolution today or tomorrow.

Lebanese officials railed against the draft, saying that unless it is overhauled, it will do nothing to quell the warfare. They complained that the language left the door open for Israel to keep up the crippling attacks and appealed for the international community to order Israel to remove its ground troops from southern Lebanon.

"It is against Lebanese interests and against peace," the speaker of Lebanon's parliament, Nabih Berri said of the document. "This draft proposal will keep the doors open for war."

Mohammed Shatah, a senior aide to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, said the proposal lacked "immediate steps to make it stick."

And Foreign Minister Walid Moallem of Syria, one of Hezbollah's main patrons, said on a visit to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, that the plan was "a recipe for the continuation of the war."

Israel maintained official silence on the proposal, which calls for an immediate end to hostilities and seeks to lay groundwork for a second resolution that would establish an international force to support the Lebanese army in the border zone. But senior officials indicated that the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert considered the terms generally favorable.

In the meantime, Israel vowed to press ahead with its offensive, meant to purge Hezbollah from a four-mile-deep strip of southern Lebanon.

"We must continue the fighting, continue to hit whomever we can hit from Hezbollah," Justice Minister Haim Ramon said on Israel's army radio.

Although the Israeli public still broadly supports the government's war aims, yesterday's rocket deaths staggered the country, not only because they represented the highest single-day toll since the start of the conflict but also because the circumstances were particularly painful.

The 12 Israeli soldiers were killed as they congregated at the entrance to Kfar Giladi, a border communal farm being used as a makeshift base by the military. The simultaneous deaths of so many reservists, citizen-soldiers who left jobs and families to rush to the front, is an enormous blow to national morale, worsened by the fact that the deaths might have been prevented if the soldiers had taken cover when warning sirens sounded.

After the rockets hit Haifa, Israelis shuddered at televised scenes of the chaos and panic in a vibrant city that is considered one of the country's jewels.

Sirens wailed, smoke billowed over the skyline and rescue workers scrambled to clear rubble to check for survivors.

Haifa has long been a city where Jews and Arabs live side by side, and all three of the dead were members of Israel's Arab minority. The dead included an elderly man and woman who were having coffee in the garden outside a building that took a direct hit. Arriving at the scene, the man's daughter wailed in Arabic, "Is Father dead?"

While previous strikes on Haifa had been isolated, this one involved a concerted volley that hit one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, raising the specter of more rockets hitting densely populated areas in the city of nearly 300,000 residents.

"This attack in Haifa is precisely what Israel is trying to prevent. This is vivid proof of the necessity of Israel's [military] operation," said David Baker, an official in the prime minister's office. "We will not allow Hezbollah to terrorize our cities."

The day's events stoked fears of a surge in casualties while the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on the proposed resolution as each side seeks to inflict heavy blows on the other and gain a potential edge in negotiations to come.

Nearly 600 Lebanese and 94 Israelis have died since the conflict erupted July 12 with a cross-border raid by Hezbollah in which two Israeli soldiers were captured.

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