Israeli bomb attack kills 33 as aid effort suffers

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The Israeli air force killed at least 33 people in north-east Lebanon yesterday when it attacked a farm near Qaa in the Bekaa Valley where workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, were loading plums and peaches on to trucks.

It was the second deadliest strike of the 24-day conflict after Sunday's air raid on the village of Qana that killed up to 54 civilians and sparked global protests.

Despite growing outrage at Israel's continuing violation of humanitarian law, fighter aircraft went into action to destroy four bridges on the main coastal highway north of Beirut, further disrupting aid convoys for the civilians trapped by the conflict. An Israeli spokesman said the air strikes in the Bekaa Valley were aimed at buildings used by Hizbollah as a weapons store. Television footage showed bodies of what appeared to be farm workers lined up near the ruins of a small building in fruit groves. Strewn around were baskets for fruit.

As the civilian death toll mounted, diplomacy remained at a standstill at the UN. Israel carried out more than 150 air strikes across south Lebanon yesterday and its artillery bombarded the border where Hizbollah were trying to prevent Israeli forces from holding a zone containing 20 villages up to four miles from the border. In response ,Hizbollah guerrillas fired 195 Katysuha rockets into northern Israel, killing three Arab-Israelis and wounding several, medics said.

The UN said the bombing of bridges in the Christian heartlands north of Beirut had severed its "umbilical cord" of aid to Lebanon. The bridge at Maameltein, north of Beirut, was split by a huge crater. Further north, another bridge lay in ruins in the valley. "The whole road is gone," said Astrid van Genderen Stort of the UN refugee agency. "It's really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country." Israel said it had destroyed the bridges to prevent Syria sending more arms to Hizbollah.

The European Commission also said Israeli bombing of routes north of Beirut had made it harder to deliver humanitarian aid.

"We will need guarantees for the safety of our people on the ground if we are to successfully continue the provision of aid," said European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel.

The UN World Food Programme called off planned convoys to the southern port city of Tyre after air raids on a Beirut suburb prevented drivers from reaching the assembly point.

The largest single group of Hizbollah rockets fell on Kyriat Shimona where, late yesterday afternoon, a huge pall of smoke rose from brush fires on the overlooking hills. Residents who have not travelled south to escape the rockets stayed indoors in secure rooms or public shelters.

Meanwhile, two more Israeli soldiers, were killed in fighting with Hizobollah guerillas outside the southern Lebanon village of Markaba. They were hit by an anti-tank missile.