UN troops and reporters in the UN area of operations south of Tyre saw the ambulance engulfed in a ball of fire. Inside, they found the corpses of the women and children, the youngest of whom was three years old. Last night an Israeli army spokesman said the ambulance "belonged" to a Hizbollah member who was wounded, and added - without apology - that "if other individuals in the vehicle were hit during the attack, they had been used by the Hizbollah as a cover for Hizbollah activities".
Reporters said the ambulance carried the logo of a scout movement linked to Amal, a rival of Hizbollah.The deaths follow the killing of four other children and four women, three of them from a family whose home was shelled in the lower Bekaa valley. Beirut newspapers showed the corpses of the three women, one of whom had been decapitated by an Israeli shell.
Yesterday Israeli artillery continued firing rolling barrages at 49 villages north of the zone in southern Lebanon occupied by the Israeli army. Israeli officers claimed they checked carefully from the air that the inhabitants of each village had fled before opening fire on specific houses. But of the 26 deaths so far recorded in Israel's attacks, 23 are civilians and the other three Lebanese and Syrian soldiers. Not a single Hizbollah guerrilla appears to have died.
"It's been successful so far in that Hizbollah hasn't been able to muster much of a response," said an Israeli official.
The Israeli operation is due to last between one and two weeks. Although Israel claims it is striking only at Hizbollah, its heavy guns have fired more than 3,000 shells in 24 hours, according to UN observers, in what is in practice a collective punishment of villagers who lend support to the guerrillas.
Israel last night announced that its helicopters would fire at any traffic on the coast road south of Beirut, the only highway linking the capital with southern Lebanon. It also demanded that all ships stay 12 miles off Lebanon unless they received Israeli permission.
The campaign in Lebanon is linked to the Israeli election on 29 May, but the standing of the Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, could easily be damaged when Hizbollah counter-attacks, as it is expected to do. In Beirut yesterday the Palestinian militant factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed revenge attacks.
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