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Israel and Lebanon under fire, civilians bear brunt

Written by: Staff

BEIRUT, July 23 (Reuters) Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanon and Hizbollah rockets crashed into Haifa today as a senior U N official demanded a halt to the violence to allow aid to reach desperate civilians.

Civilians have taken the brunt of the 12-day war that has cost 368 lives in Lebanon and killed 37 Israelis.

''We have been living in hell,'' Lebanese farmer Mohammad Zabad, 45, told Reuters in the southern port of Tyre.

Israeli factory worker Keren Hagigi said he had witnessed horrific scenes after a rocket hit an industrial zone in Haifa.

''There were wounded people on the road and a wounded person in the building too. There was terrible destruction,'' he said.

Israeli air raids hit Beirut and east and south Lebanon, killing eight civilians and wounding 100, many of them in Tyre.

Two people were killed and 15 wounded when Hizbollah rockets hit houses and vehicles in Haifa, Israel's third largest city.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, leaving for the West Asia later in the day, has said she will pursue a lasting solution, not an immediate ceasefire. Washington blames Hizbollah and its allies, Syria and Iran, for the conflict.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said his country was ready for dialogue with the United States and wanted an immediate ceasefire, followed by diplomacy to end the war.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Israel could accept a new international force in the south to keep Hizbollah guerrillas at bay and suggested that NATO could lead it.

The United States said it would take the idea seriously, but was not considering contributing troops to such a force itself.

''We have been looking carefully at a multinational force perhaps authorised by the (U.N.) Security Council, but not a U.N.-helmeted force,'' John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN.

It would be very hard to deploy any such force in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim south without the consent of Hizbollah, which touched off the conflict by capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight others in a cross-border raid on July 12.

U.N. peacekeepers have patrolled the south since Israel first invaded Lebanon in 1978, but their mission to help restore Lebanese government authority in the area remains unfulfilled.

More Reuters MQA DB2137

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