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Israeli military seizes Lebanese town

Attacks rain down from both sides of border

Israeli soldiers rest Saturday outside Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel.

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AVIVIM, Israel (CNN) -- Denying that it plans a full-scale ground invasion, the Israeli military entered the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras on Saturday to establish its "first foothold" in a security buffer along the border, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The Israeli military flushed Hezbollah fighters out of the village and will hold it until it can be handed over to a multinational force or the Lebanese army, the IDF said, adding that the security buffer will hamstring Hezbollah's ability to launch rockets into northern Israel.

Maroun al-Ras is a few kilometers from the Israeli town of Avivim. (Map)

Israeli tanks and troops will attempt to enter several villages in the same manner, Israeli commanders said. The military passed messages through the local media and community leaders, warning residents of 10 villages to clear out by 4 p.m. Saturday (9 a.m. ET), ahead of Israeli airstrikes targeting Hezbollah guerillas, the IDF said.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Oliver Rafowicz insisted that Israel has "no intention" of invading Lebanon. (Watch why Israel believes Maroun al-Ras is so important -- 6:06)

Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon fired Katyusha rockets at an Israeli outpost Saturday, lightly wounding one soldier, the IDF said.

Guerillas also fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel on Saturday. Some of those rockets targeted Avivim, and at least seven air-raid sirens sounded Saturday in Haifa, as several rockets landed in an open area.

Israel hits back

The Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon and southern Beirut moved into its 12th day early Sunday, as the Israeli military hit a building in the port city of Sidon that "serves Hezbollah," the IDF said.

Operations were ongoing in southern Beirut, the IDF said, and CNN crews there reported hearing 11 explosions in the city between midnight and 3:30 a.m. (5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday ET).

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Beirut. Lebanese media reported three people were injured in Sidon.

At 2 p.m. Saturday (7 a.m. ET), the IDF said it had struck 150 targets across Lebanon in the past 24 hours, including weapons-storage facilities, 11 rocket launchers, a rocket-launching cell, communication towers, 12 roads connecting Syria and Lebanon, and "dozens of Hezbollah structures and command posts." Other strikes hit Tyre, and near Tripoli and Batroun.

Airstrikes toppled at least six transmission towers north of Beirut, disrupting phone and television service throughout northern Lebanon, a Lebanese government official said. (Watch workers dig through the rubble for survivors -- 4:00)

A Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. employee was killed and two others were wounded during the strikes at Mount Lebanon, according to the LBC.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that missiles struck relay stations for Future TV, Hezbollah-run Al-Manar television and the nation's leading private network, LBC, but their satellite feeds were unaffected.

The conflict has raged since July 12, when Hezbollah militants killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others in a cross-border raid.

300 dead

At least 300 people have died so far in the fighting. The IDF said 34 Israelis, 15 of them civilians, have been killed. At least 266 Lebanese people have been killed, according to Lebanese officials.

More than 300 Israelis and 631 Lebanese have been wounded, the sources said. (Watch dozens of coffins being lined up in a trench awaiting mass burial -- 3:13)

Although Israel has relied heavily on airstrikes and artillery during its 12-day offensive in Lebanon, thousands of Israeli troops began massing on the border Friday. Those troops numbered about 5,000 as of Saturday.

"The ultimate goal of our operations close to the border is to eliminate the infrastructure and the posts established of Hezbollah over the past six years since Israel pulled out of Lebanon," Israeli military spokesman Capt. Erik Snider said.

The Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah could end in about two or three weeks, diplomatic sources said, adding that a political solution -- which includes the Lebanese army or a new international force taking control of southern Lebanon -- would need to be in place before a cease-fire could be brokered. (Watch tanks roll through orchards into Lebanon -- 2:59)

An international U.N. force already is in southern Lebanon. About 2,000 troops -- including 50 military observers -- and 400 civilians have been there since 1978 to observe the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, maintain security and eventually return authority over the area to the Lebanese government.

Under the treaty that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1990, Hezbollah was allowed to keep its weapons to fight Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon. Israel pulled its troops from the south in 2000, after a 22-year occupation of the area.

In 2004, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, but the group says it won't lay down its arms until Israeli troops leave the disputed Shebaa Farms region near the Syrian border, which the United Nations considers Syrian territory.

The United States and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The group, which has claimed responsibility for terrorist acts, also operates an extensive network of social services in Lebanon. Its political wing holds seats in the Lebanese parliament.

Diplomatic developments

  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that he feared "a major humanitarian disaster" if the violence did not end soon. (Full story)
  • President Bush underscored U.S. support for Israeli attacks on Hezbollah, saying the guerillas are backed by Iran and Syria, and provoked Israel's response. The address came the day before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to head to the region on a diplomatic mission. (Full story)
  • British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells questioned Israel's response, saying he hoped the United States was aware of the destruction and deaths. "If you're chasing Hezbollah, well, chase Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation, and that's the difference," he said.
  • The U.S. State Department says more than 10,000 Americans have been transported out of Lebanon since Sunday. Other Western nations are continuing to pull their citizens out of the country.
  • CNN's Paula Newton, Christiane Amanpour and Katie Turner contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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