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U.N.: Israeli airstrike hits U.N. observer post

Sources: Condoleezza Rice floats plan to end conflict

Smoke billows from a southern Beirut neighborhood after an Israeli air raid Tuesday.



BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike hit a United Nations post in southern Lebanon late Tuesday, killing at least two of the agency's observers, according to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

The U.N. initially reported that four peacekeepers were dead, but later said there were two dead and two missing. The observers were Austrian, Finnish, Canadian and Chinese, Lebanese security sources said.

Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency, reported that a Chinese observer was one of the dead.

The security sources also said that the two missing observers are feared buried in the rubble of the building.

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said that "UNIFIL obviously got caught in the middle" of a gunfight between Hezbollah guerillas and Israeli troops.

"We do not have yet confirmation what caused these deaths. It could be (Israel Defense Forces). It could be Hezbollah," he said.

UNIFIL sent a rescue-and-medical team to the city of Khiyam, and the team was trying to clear rubble early Wednesday. Attacks in the vicinity continued as rescuers tried to reach those killed or injured, UNIFIL said.

UNIFIL said there had been at least 14 incidents of fire close to the post since Tuesday afternoon.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "deeply distressed" by the "apparently deliberate" strike.

"This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire," he said in a statement.

"Furthermore, General Alain Pelligrini, the U.N. force commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from attack."

Ayalon called Annan's statement "outrageous," while Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said he, too, was "deeply distressed" that Annan alleged that the strike was deliberate.

"I am surprised at these premature and erroneous assertions made by the secretary-general, who while demanding an investigation, has already issued its conclusions," Gillerman said in a statement.

The IDF said it was looking into the report, which came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed an ambitious plan in which international military forces would help the Lebanese government stabilize southern Lebanon, Lebanese political sources said.

Rice pitched the plan Tuesday to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, then traveled to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice's diplomatic moves came on the 14th day of the conflict sparked by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Lebanese cities, while Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel. (Watch cockpit view of bombing in Lebanon -- :45)

The Israel Defense Forces also said it killed senior Hezbollah commander Abu Jaafar, who Israel says was in charge of the central area of Lebanon's border with Israel. CNN was not able to confirm the report and there has been no confirmation from Hezbollah.

Since July 12, at least 392 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and as many as 1,383 wounded in Lebanon, Lebanese security officials said Tuesday.

At least 41 Israelis have died, including 19 civilians, and at least 388 have been wounded, Israeli officials said.

The plan proposed by Rice initially would involve putting an international force of up to 10,000 Turkish and Egyptian troops under a NATO or U.N. commander into southern Lebanon following a cease-fire, the Lebanese political sources said.

Another international force of up to 30,000 troops then would help the Lebanese government regain control over the region, the sources said. (Full story)

Rice presented the plan Monday to Lebanese officials, the sources said, and will show it to European foreign ministers Wednesday in Rome, Italy.

U.S. and diplomatic sources said Lebanese officials are leaking details of the proposal because they are opposed to many of them.

The sources describe the plan as an outline or working proposal and said no one has agreed to it. They also said there are many hurdles to overcome before it could be implemented.

No letup in the fighting

An overnight Israeli airstrike hit a house in the village of Nabatiye, killing seven people, Lebanese security sources said.

The IDF said its military operations have hit dozens of militants during ongoing fighting in Bint Jbeil, a town it dubbed Hezbollah's "terror capital."

Israel gained complete control of Bint Jbeil, according to IDF Gen. Gal Hirsch. The IDF said it had killed between 20 and 30 Hezbollah fighters in the area in the past 24 hours.

The IDF hopes to create a "security zone" in southern Lebanon until an international force arrives, said Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

"If there is not a multinational force that will get in to control the fences, we will continue to control with our fire towards anyone that gets close to the defined security zone and they will know that they can be hurt," he said.

In Israel, a Katyusha rocket killed a 15-year-old girl Tuesday in the village of Meghar, Israeli police and medical service officials said.

At least 18 people were injured in the port city of Haifa and one man died of a heart attack after a rocket struck near his home, officials said.

About 100 Hezbollah rockets were fired into Israel on Tuesday, striking the cities of Haifa, Carmiel, Kyrat Shmona and Nahiriya, according to the IDF.

Huge explosions reverberated Tuesday afternoon through the southern suburbs of Beirut -- a Hezbollah stronghold -- sending smoke billowing through high-rise buildings. (Watch airstrikes pound Beirut -- 2:53)

Several Israeli strikes hit the Lebanese coastal city of Tyre. There was no official word yet on casualties.

Israel opens aid corridors

Israeli officials agreed during talks with Rice to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Lebanon, a U.S. State Department official said.

Lebanese officials have pleaded with the United States to pressure Israel for an immediate cease-fire, but U.S. officials said conditions are not yet ripe for such a move, and they expect Israeli military operations to continue for another week or even longer.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman delivered $30 million in humanitarian aid to Lebanon, which will meet the basic medical needs of 20,000 people, according to an embassy statement. The shipment was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Tuesday afternoon.

The U.S. announcement followed a U.N. appeal for nearly $150 million in humanitarian aid earlier this week. (Full story)

CNN's John King, Karl Penhaul, John Roberts, Brent Sadler and Fionnuala Sweeney contributed to this report.

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