Hezbollah fighters yesterday inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli forces in fierce fighting in the town of Bint Jubayl two miles north of the Lebanese border with Israel.
Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed and twelve wounded as the battle for the town raged for a third day.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said ‘violent confrontations’ erupted between its fighters and Israeli forces attempting to advance from a hilltop towards a hospital in the town.
An Israeli military spokesman admitted: ‘There are still exchanges of fire in Bint Jubayl. They’re putting up resistance and the fighting is continuing.’
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rejected Israeli claims that the town had been taken.
He said: ‘They do not control Bint Jubayl. All the city of Bint Jubayl is still in the hands of the resistance.’
An Israeli air strike destroyed a three-storey house in the border village of Yarun, close to Bint Jubayl, burying ten civilians, including children, under the rubble, police said.
Meanwhile a row has broken out after Israeli artillery and air strikes killed four UN observers on Tuesday.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan said he was ‘shocked’ at the ‘apparently deliberate targeting’ of the clearly marked UN mission near Khiam.
UN peacekeepers had contacted Israeli troops ten times before an Israeli guided missile killed the four unarmed observers after shelling the post for hours, an initial UN report says.
Kofi Annan told the Rome press conference after yesterday’s international summit on Lebanon: ‘The shelling of the UN position which is long established and clearly marked, started early in the morning and went on until after 7pm when we lost contact.
‘Our general and troops, our people on the ground were in touch with the Israeli Army warning them “please be careful, we have positions here. Don’t harm our people”, and many calls went up until this happened.’
The UN report says each time the UN contacted Israeli forces, they were assured the firing would stop.
In the hours immediately after Tuesday’s raid there was no let-up in the Israeli bombardment.
‘The firing continued during the UNIFIL rescue,’ UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the press conference after the Rome summit: ‘For the past fifteen days we have been pounded every day, scores of people are dying every day, and scores are being injured.
‘The country is being cut to pieces, to bring the country to its knees and that’s what’s happening.’
He added: ‘This is the seventh aggression and seventh occupation that Israel is exercising against Lebanon.
‘We really wanted an immediate ceasefire.’
He warned: ‘The more we delay the ceasefire the more people we are going to witness being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians of Lebanon.’
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the parties had agreed to put together ‘a robust international force’ and to ‘bring an end to the violence’ but there could be ‘no return to the status quo ante’ and Hezbollah had to be disarmed.
• Second news story
SADDAM DRAGGED INTO COURT FROM HOSPITAL
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who had been on hunger strike, said yesterday he was taken against his will from his hospital bed to his trial in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
He was taken to hospital last Sunday because of his hunger strike, which he began on 7 July in protest at the killing of three of his defence lawyers.
Looking thinner, Saddam told the court: ‘I was brought against my will directly from the hospital.’
He added: ‘The Americans insisted that I come against my will. This is not fair.
‘Three days ago I was taken to hospital and today I was brought here forcibly from the hospital. I was fed intravenously.’
Later in the hearing, he told the judge: ‘I ask you being an Iraqi person that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad and not by hanging as a common criminal.’
His defence team has been boycotting the trial and replacement lawyers have been named.
Saddam Hussein told the chief judge he rejected the lawyers appointed by the court to defend him.
Judge Abdel Rahman responded: ‘Your lawyers were informed of the hearing and they chose not to come, despite the fact that they have billions of dollars and sit in a neighbouring country, where they incite violence.’