US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Beirut today to seek a “sustainable” ceasefire in Lebanon, where Hezbollah guerrillas were battling Israeli forces in the south.
Ms Rice arrived by helicopter from Cyprus and Lebanese political sources said she would meet Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Shiite Muslim Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Mr Berri, head of the Shiite Amal movement, is a pro-Syrian politician allied to Hezbollah who has acted as a link between the Islamist group’s leaders and Mr Siniora since the war erupted.
Al Jazeera television said two Israeli soldiers had been killed in fierce fighting after tanks pushed north from the border village of Maroun al-Ras. It said a helicopter carrying wounded Israeli soldiers had crashed near the border.
Hezbollah said its fighters downed the helicopter and hit five tanks, destroying some of them and killing and wounding several soldiers.
The Israeli army said earlier nine soldiers had been wounded in the fighting. An Israeli military source said Hezbollah did not shoot down helicopter.
Israeli tanks had driven north from the border village of Maroun al-Ras, captured in heavy fighting last week, towards the town of Bint Jbeil, about four km inside Lebanon.
The incursion was one of several forays by Israeli troops across the border in search of elusive Hezbollah fighters using well-hidden rocket-launchers to attack northern Israel.
Israeli warplanes battered southern towns and villages, killing at least three people and wounding 20. An air strike also hit a Shiite district of Beirut just after midday….
Israeli security sources and Western diplomats said Israel’s army believed it had about a week to complete its campaign before an international deal is reached to stop the fighting.
The US, which blames Hezbollah and its allies in Syria and Iran for the crisis, wants any ceasefire deal to remove the threat to Israel posed by the Shiite group.
“We believe that a ceasefire is urgent,” Ms Rice told reporters during her flight to the Middle East. “It is important to have conditions that will make it also sustainable.”