Four U.N. Observers Die in Israeli Attack
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The ongoing clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters produced more casualties today. Several Israeli troops were reported killed. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed deep regret over an Israeli airstrike that killed as many as four United Nations observers in south Lebanon.
Olmert strongly rejected charges by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the site was hit deliberately.
NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
An Israeli aircraft fired a bomb that scored a direct hit on the building and shelter of the U.N. observer post in the Lebanese town of Khiam, near the eastern end of Israel's border with Lebanon. U.N. officials said four observers were killed from China, Austria, Canada and Finland. A U.N. spokesman said rescue workers were trying to clear the rubble, but Israeli firing continued even during the rescue operation.
Prime Minister Olmert said the peacekeepers were killed mistakenly. He called Kofi Annan expressing dismay over the U.N. secretary-general's accusations that Israel struck the site deliberately. Olmert promised a thorough investigation.
The deaths of the peacekeepers come as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets delegates from European and Arab states in Rome to discuss ways to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. One of the main issues under discussion is an international force that would deploy along the border between Israel and Lebanon.
Israeli media reports say that in their meeting yesterday, Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Olmert agreed the role of the international force will be to help the Lebanese army deploy in the south and insure that Hezbollah does not rebuild its positions there. However, the report said, the force will not be responsible for disarming Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, fierce fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas continued as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Lebanon. And Israel's other front, Gaza, also heated up today. Palestinian officials said eight Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. They said at least two of the dead were civilians, one of them a three-year-old child. About 50 Israeli tanks also reentered northern Gaza.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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