A battle between Hezbollah and Israeli paratroopers raged in Baalbek from Tuesday evening to early this morning. The fighting ended at about 4 a.m. after jets pounded parts of the city in at least two air raids. At one point the paratroopers were said to be trapped in the hospital they had invaded.

 

Hezbollah’s chief spokesman, Hussein Rahal, said  that Israeli paratroopers landed late Tuesday evening by helicopter into Baalbek, near Dar al-Hikma Hospital. Baalbek is 130 kilometres north of and is the furthest Israeli ground troops have gone in the present conflict.

The commandos landed under cover of heavy airstrikes, witnesses said. At least seven people were killed in the city, they said.

"A group of Israeli commandos was brought to the hospital by a helicopter. They entered the hospital and are trapped inside as our fighters opened fire on them and fierce fighting is still raging," said Rahal late Tuesday.

He also stated that Hezbollah guerrillas in the area shot automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades while Israeli jets fired missiles at the fighters,

Israeli planes conducted at least 10 bombing runs in the vicinity of the hospital as well as on hills in both east and west Baalbek, witnesses confirmed to The Associated Press. is ignoring  its 48-hour air strike suspension, declared after international condemnation for its airraid in Qana which killed 54 people, perhaps more. The figure is unknown because it is difficult to extricate bodies from the rubble. More than half of the dead are children.

 At least 15 civilians died or were injured in the Baalbek offensive  according to Lebanese security sources.   claimed to have distributed leaflets to Hezbollah communities northeast of the river that warned Lebanese to evacuate.

One airstrike hit the village of Al Jamaliyeh, about a half mile from the hospital. A missile hit the house of the village mayor, Hussein Jamaleddin, instantly killing his son, Ali, the mayor’s brother, Awad, and five other relatives, witnesses said.

It was said that Jamaleddin — who survived the raid — and his relatives were political opponents of Hezbollah.

"Where is the press? Where is the media to see this massacre? Count our dead. Count our body parts," Jamaleddin told The Associated Press by telephone minutes after the missile strike.

Although has stated that it would not go further north into than the the Litani River,. Baalbek, in eastern ‘s Bekaa Valley, is well north of the river.

The battle in Baalbek is now over. The paratroopers have returned to . reported capturing at least three, perhaps five low-ranking Hezbollah members in the attack.

Hezbollah denied they were fighters. "Those who were taken prisoner are citizens. It will not be long before the (Israeli) enemy will discover that they are ordinary citizens," Hezbollah said in a statement broadcast on its Al-Manar television.

Later, Israeli warplanes hit several infrastructure targets in the northern province of Akkar and in Nabatieyah, Lebanese security officials said.

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