U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned an Israeli air strike that killed four members of a United Nations observer team in southern Lebanon, and he is demanding a full investigation by Israel.
Mr. Annan says the four peacekeepers -- said to be from China, Finland, Austria and Canada -- were victims of an apparently deliberate attack by Israel.
Israel offered its regrets for the "tragic deaths" and says it will investigate the incident.
But the secretary-general, who is in Rome for talks on Wednesday on the Middle East fighting, says the U.N. base at Khiam was clearly marked. An Israeli bomb scored a direct hit on the outpost despite what Mr. Annan says were "personal assurances" by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israeli forces would not target U.N. positions.
Israeli diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York denied the attack was aimed at the international observer team. They say Mr. Annan's angry comments were premature and erroneous.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says his guerrillas are ready to fire rockets that will reach farther into Israeli territory, beyond the northern city of Haifa. Speaking on Hezbollah television on Wednesday, Nasrallah said the conflict has entered a new phase.
Hezbollah has fired more than a thousand rockets into northern Israel this month, including many missiles that exploded in or near Haifa, about 40 kilometers from the Lebanese border. Israel believes that Hezbollah may have even longer-range weapons, capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
The U.N. observer team known as UNIFIL has been in Lebanon since 1978. It was established as "an interim force" to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli military units based in Lebanon, to restore regional peace and security and to help restore the Lebanese government's authority over the area. For almost all of the past quarter-century, however, anti-Israeli militants have controlled much of southern Lebanon near the Israeli border.
In another development, the Israeli military says it has killed a senior Hezbollah commander, Abu Jafar in a gunfight near the southern Lebanese border village of Maroun al-Ras. Israel also says it now controls the neighboring town of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold. To the north, Israeli forces continued punishing air strikes Tuesday aimed at targets around Beirut, the Lebanese capital.
A senior Hezbollah official has told Associated Press that the militant group did not expect such a strong response from Israel following the guerrillas' capture of two Israeli soldiers -- the event that set off the current intense fighting. The A.P. report quotes Mahmoud Komati as saying that Hezbollah expected only -- in his words -- "the usual, limited" response from Israel.
Since July 12th, The fighting has killed about 400 Lebanese and almost 50 Israelis. More than half of the Israeli victims, and almost all of the Lebanese, were civilians.