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Israel takes aim at Hezbollah stronghold

90 rockets fired at northern Israel; 2 die in Israeli copter crash

Israeli troops carry an injured soldier across the border Monday after fighting in southern Lebanon.



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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants battled Monday in southern Lebanon around what the Israeli military has dubbed Hezbollah's "terror capital."

The fighting took place in the Bint Jbeil area, north of Maroun Al-Ras, and involved aerial and ground forces.

Israeli troops killed "a number of Hezbollah fighters" and wounded dozens during ground fighting at a Katyusha rocket launch site near Bint Jbeil, the Israel Defense Forces said. (Watch as the Israelis strike Hezbollah's stronghold -- 1:40)

Two Israeli soldiers were killed, and about 20 soldiers were wounded, the IDF said.

The Israeli military believes Bint Jbeil is an important weapons storage area for Hezbollah, with tunnels, bunkers and caves holding large supplies of missiles, rockets and launchers, military sources said.

"There are large numbers of explosive devices and mines in the area, and heavy fire is being exchanged," said IDF spokeswoman Miri Regev.

"We intend to clean out the area in order to avoid firing at Israel. We intend to reach the central towns from which Katyushas [rockets] are being fired, dismantle terror infrastructure, to hit the terrorists and then to leave."

In addition, the IDF said it had seized two Hezbollah guerrillas "suspected in involvement in terror activities" in Maroun Al-Ras. The guerrillas were captured Sunday and are being held in Israel.

On Sunday, Hezbollah conceded that Israel had gained control of Maroun Al-Ras. The IDF called the village its "first foothold" in southern Lebanon in an effort to create a security buffer zone.

Over the weekend, Israeli officials said they would not oppose a multinational force in a buffer zone along Lebanon's southern border to guarantee against further incursions by Hezbollah.

As the crisis entered its 13th day Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stopped in Beirut to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

She then headed to Israel, where she was to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She also was expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. (Full story)

Unlike U.N. and European Union officials, the Bush administration has not called for an immediate end to the fighting, arguing that leaving Hezbollah in place on Israel's northern border would only make further conflict inevitable.

Israeli artillery and warplanes have been pounding Lebanon since July 12, when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Hezbollah has responded to the bombardment by firing more than 1,000 rockets into Israel, the IDF said.

At least 375 people, most of them civilians, have died and at least 727 have been wounded in Lebanon, officials with the Lebanese security forces said Monday.

Northern Israel under barrage

In Israel, the death toll is 39 -- 17 of them civilians and 22 soldiers -- according to the IDF. More than 300 civilians and more than 60 soldiers have been wounded.

The latest barrage of Hezbollah rockets landed near the northern Israeli cities of Tiberias, Kiryat Shmona, Maalot, Nahariya and north of Haifa.

By Monday afternoon, 90 rockets had been fired at northern Israel, wounding seven people, Israeli police said.

An Israeli military helicopter also crashed Monday on the Israeli side of the Lebanon border close to Bint Jbeil, killing two pilots on board, the IDF said.

The crash was an accident, the IDF added. (Watch flames shoot from crashed helicopter -- 1:30)

Relief to arrive

The United States has pledged $30 million in humanitarian aid to Lebanon and will supply 100,000 medical kits, 20,000 blankets and 2,000 rolls of plastic sheeting, said David Welch, an aide to Rice.

U.S. warships and aircraft that have been used to evacuate Americans from Lebanon to Cyprus will help deliver the aid, a Pentagon official said. Medical supplies will be shipped to Beirut for distribution by aid agencies.

U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland has appealed for a cease-fire. The damage in Lebanon is "far beyond what we normally see in wars," he told CNN, and he urged Israel to scale back its campaign.

He said his team does not have safe access to those trapped in southern Lebanon, where most of the country's estimated 500,000 internally displaced people are located.

And he said the bombing has made roads impassable.

Nonetheless, aid workers planned to run convoys of trucks from Beirut to the southern city of Tyre on Wednesday and Friday, Egeland later added.

The United Nations has no direct contact with Hezbollah and can only appeal to the group "indirectly" through the media.

His agency has launched an appeal for nearly $150 million in humanitarian aid to help the 800,000 Lebanese estimated to be displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance. ( Watch Syrians open homes to Lebanese -- 2:14)

Red Cross says ambulances hit

Israeli bombs hit buildings and cars Monday in Maaliye, south of Tyre, Lebanon. Israeli forces also struck a truck in Kfarshima, southeast of Beirut, near the main airport, Lebanese security forces said.

The Israeli air force struck a site east of Sidon used by Hezbollah to launch rockets, an IDF spokesman said. They also hit a car that the spokesman said contained militants who were fleeing the area after launching rockets.

An Israeli missile also hit two Red Cross ambulances late Sunday in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, killing one person and seriously wounding two others, a Red Cross official said.

The official said the ambulances were clearly marked as Red Cross vehicles and were part of an effort to transport the wounded to hospitals in Tyre.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli military officials.

Israel says its weapons are legal

Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh on Monday cited suspicions that Israel is using weapons that may contain phosphorus.

"There is no evidence but high clinical suspicions," Khalifeh said, pointing to severe burns that doctors are seeing on people in hospitals.

In a statement, the Israeli military said, "All IDF weapons and ammunition comply with international law."

International rules of war forbid the use of weapons that cause indiscriminate suffering but make no specific reference to phosphorus.

The United States has used phosphorus in military actions in Iraq.

CNN's Paula Newton, Karl Penhaul, Cal Perry, John Roberts, Nic Robertson, John Vause, Anthony Mills, Schams Elwazer, Elise Labott, Jamie McIntyre and Chris Burns contributed to this report.

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