Battles Rage On Eve of U.N. Truce

The United Nations said Israeli and Lebanese leaders had agreed a ceasefire would take effect at 0500 GMT on Monday to end the month-old war, but fighting raged on Sunday as Israeli forces met fierce resistance from Hizbollah guerrillas.

Israeli aircraft also launched scores of strikes on more than 50 villages and towns across Lebanon on Sunday.

Israel, which has stepped up its offensive in south Lebanon ahead of the truce, suffered its worst single day death toll in the war on Saturday. It said 19 soldiers were killed in the fighting and that five declared missing after a helicopter was shot down were now feared dead.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Israeli and Lebanese leaders had agreed to a ceasefire from Monday and the United Nations was preparing to deploy up to 15,000 troops to help enforce the truce.

The Israeli cabinet convened a meeting on Sunday at which it was expected to formally approve the U.N. Security Council resolution.

In Lebanon, three civilians were killed and 13 wounded in an Israeli air raid on the village of Ali Al Nahri in the eastern Bekaa Valley, security sources said.

The fate of a mother and her three children was not immediately clear after they were buried under the rubble of a house struck near the southern city of Tyre, the sources said. Raids in the area destroyed eight petrol stations. Similar strikes in north Lebanon destroyed three bridges.

Artillery pounded Hizbollah-held areas in south Lebanon. Hundreds of rounds crashed into the Hizbollah stronghold of Khiam, residents said.

Hizbollah reported fierce fighting in several parts of the border area and said its guerrillas destroyed at least two tanks and one bulldozer. It said guerrillas were clashing with an Israeli unit trying to reach the wreckage of the downed helicopter to retrieve the bodies of the five soldiers.

Almost 30,000 Israeli troops are operating in south Lebanon, Israel’s Army Radio said.

At least 1,067 people in Lebanon and 143 Israelis, including 104 soldiers, have been killed in the war, triggered on July 12 when Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Lebanon, Hizbollah Agree Truce

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his government unanimously approved the U.N. resolution on Saturday, and Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters would abide by the ceasefire once Israeli forces also adhered to it.

“I am very happy to announce (Olmert and Siniora) have agreed that the cessation of hostilities and the end of the fighting will enter into force on 14 August at 0500 hours GMT,” Annan said in a statement in New York.

“Preferably, the fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Security Council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through.”

Nasrallah said Hizbollah would abide by the U.N. resolution and cooperate with the U.N. and Lebanese troops, but would carry on confronting any Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil.

“As long as there is Israeli military movement, Israeli field aggression and Israeli soldiers occupying our land … it is our natural right to confront them, fight them and defend our land, our homes, and ourselves,” Nasrallah said.

France is widely expected to lead the U.N. force, which will expand the existing U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) but have a stronger mandate.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy made clear in an interview with Le Monde newspaper the mission of the new force would not include disarming Hizbollah by force.

A senior Israeli commander, Major General Udi Adam, said some Israeli forces had reached as far as the Litani river in Lebanon. The river is a few kilometres (miles) from the border at some points but about 20 km (13 miles) away at others.

Adam said at least 500 Hizbollah guerrillas had been killed in the war. Hizbollah has announced less than 100 deaths.

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem and United Nations bureaux)