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Latest Mideast developments

Israel suffered its bloodiest day in Lebanon in its offensive against Hezbollah, with militants killing nine soldiers in a battle for the strategic town of Bint Jbail and in the nearby village of Maroun al-Ras. At least 30 Hezbollah fighters were killed yesterday in the fighting, an Israeli military official said. A top Israeli commander said he expected the campaign to last ``several more weeks."

Hezbollah guerrillas fired one of their largest barrages in days into northern Israel -- 151 rockets that wounded at least 31 people and damaged property.

Israeli warplanes destroyed an empty building containing the offices of Hezbollah's south Lebanon commander in Tyre. One person was killed in a strike that destroyed the headquarters of the Shi'ite Amal movement in the town of Zefta, officials said.

US, European, and Arab officials holding crisis talks failed to agree on an immediate plan to halt the fighting. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the international community to work quickly to end the ``spasms of violence," but the United States remained isolated from most of its allies by insisting that any cease-fire address the region's long-term problems.

Premier Romano Prodi of Italy said he would commit troops to a military force for Lebanon if it had a UN mandate.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel expressed ``deep regret" over the killings of four UN peacekeepers in an airstrike and dismay over UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's accusation the bombing was ``apparently deliberate."

Olmert said Israel wants to establish a strip a little more than a mile wide in south Lebanon that will be free of Hezbollah guerrillas, giving the dimensions Israel plans in the area for the first time.

Israeli aircraft and artillery fired at Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing 23 Palestinians, including 16 militants and at least three children, as Israel pressed ahead with its offensive alongside fighting in Lebanon.

A Canadian chartered ship was being sent to rescue more than 300 Americans, Australians, and citizens of other nations stranded in south Lebanon, as the massive evacuation from the fighting wound down.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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