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Israeli troops suffer largest one-day loss

Peace talks stall; 10 Palestinians injured in airstrike in Tyre


Highlights of Condoleezza Rice, foreign ministers' news conference in Rome Wednesday:

- No agreement on a cease-fire plan.

- There can be no return to "status quo" with Hezbollah's presence in southern Lebanon, Rice said.

- Syria and Iran must support Lebanese sovereignty, help keep arms out of Lebanon, Rice said.

- Rice said ministers agreed a U.N.-led international peacekeeping force is needed.

- Negotiations will continue.



NORTHERN ISRAEL (CNN) -- The Israeli military on Wednesday suffered its largest loss of life in its 15-day offensive against Hezbollah guerillas as nine Israeli soldiers were killed while fighting in southern Lebanese towns.

Eight soldiers were killed and 22 more were wounded in Bint Jbeil, near the Israeli border, while battling militiamen in what the Israel Defense Forces has called Hezbollah's "terror capital."

There were heavy casualties among Hezbollah fighters, according to Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah has not released casualty figures since fighting began.

On Tuesday the IDF said it had taken control of the city. On Wednesday it said more troops were being sent there.

In nearby Maroun al-Ras, an Israeli army officer was killed and five soldiers were wounded in fighting, according to the IDF.

On the Mediterranean coast, 10 people were injured Wednesday in the Lebanese port city of Tyre when Israeli airstrikes destroyed a 10-story building, city officials said.

Smoke rose over the city after two large explosions, and people near the building were covered in dust and blood as they fled through the rubble.

The blast came just hours after a ship with hundreds of foreigners aboard departed the seaport in Tyre. Residents in Tyre said they were concerned that Israeli airstrikes would intensify after the Westerners left. (Watch how Tyre had dodged past attacks -- 1:25)

The ship, chartered by Canada, was bound for Cyprus filled with Americans, Australians, Britons, Canadians and other nationalities.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Udi Adam said the building was targeted because "there are launchers [there] that fire missiles at Haifa."

Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, has been the target of numerous air attacks since the conflict escalated July 12 after Hezbollah guerillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Adam also told reporters that an end to the fighting may be near.

"I assume that it will go on for a few more weeks," he said. "And in a few more weeks, I believe we will be able to put an end to this operation -- a successful end."

Border push

Israeli troops have been involved in fierce ground fighting in Lebanese border towns since entering Maroun al-Ras last week.

The goal, according to the IDF, is to push Hezbollah guerillas away from the border and reduce the Islamic militia's capability to launch Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. (Watch cockpit view of bombing in Lebanon -- :45)

Hezbollah fighters launched 102 rockets into Israel on Wednesday morning, wounding 18 people, Israeli police said. Twenty-seven of the rockets landed in cities, the police said.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Tuesday that his fighters would take the battle "beyond Haifa." However, as of Wednesday the farthest south Hezbollah rockets had struck was in Nazareth, 20 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Haifa.

Since July 12, at least 398 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in Israeli strikes, Lebanese sources say. The IDF said the death toll from Hezbollah rockets striking Israel and the fighting in southern Lebanon is 50 -- 19 of them civilians.

The fighting also has wounded more than 1,400 in Lebanon and more than 300 Israeli civilians, the sources said.

Four U.N. observers died Tuesday when an Israeli precision-guided bomb hit their post in southern Lebanon, said Lebanese security sources and a Western diplomat.

Israel has said the attack was an accident.

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan contended otherwise, and a U.N. officer said the Israeli military liaison was told 10 times in six hours that aerial attacks were getting close to the bunker manned by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. (Full story)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Israel was investigating the bombing.

"The government of Israel has definitively said that they were not deliberately targeting the UNIFIL outpost," he said. "We certainly take them at their word and note that there's no evidence to the contrary."

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

Helping Hezbollah

CNN learned Wednesday that Hezbollah isn't the only militia in Lebanon fighting Israeli troops.

Officials with the Amal Party, headed by speaker of the Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri, said militias loyal to Berri have been involved in every major battle since fighting began.

Amal is a Shiite political and paramilitary organization, like Hezbollah, and fought against Israel in the 1990s during the occupation of southern Lebanon.

Eight Amal fighters have been killed in the past three days, during which Berri met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss a solution to the crisis.

Progress unseen in talks

Talks in Rome, Italy, floundered Wednesday after the United States disagreed with European and Arab nations over how to defuse the situation, according to sources in Washington and Jerusalem. (Watch "tense, frustrating" talks in Rome -- 2:25)

The United States has resisted demands for an immediate cease-fire, insisting that a cessation of hostilities must be part of a wider plan to permanently disarm Hezbollah. Arab and European leaders say the violence must stop first. (Full story)

Meanwhile, Israel, which was not invited to participate in the talks, said it hoped "the international community will act immediately to strengthen the Lebanese army" so the army can take charge of southern Lebanon after the talks.

In Gaza, where Israel is conducting another offensive, 12 Palestinians were killed and 50 were wounded during an IDF operation in Gaza City's Sajaiyeh neighborhood, Palestinian medical sources said.

Six of those killed were Hamas militants and one was from Islamic Jihad, the sources said.

The Israeli Air Force attacked 14 militant cells in the neighborhood, according to the IDF. The air force also struck two weapons-storage facilities in Rafah and Jebalya, the IDF said.

Throughout Gaza, 25 Palestinians were killed, including 12 militants and two children, Palestinian medical and security sources said. Seven were killed by Israeli tank fire Wednesday morning, Palestinian sources said.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Marcia Biggs, John King, Karl Penhaul, John Roberts and Fionnuala Sweeney 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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