Israeli gunships kill 18 civilians

EIGHTEEN civilians, including nine children, were burnt alive in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack today on residents fleeing border villages in south Lebanon, UN peacekeepers and hospital sources said.

They were killed when a missile struck a car and a minibus near Shamaa, hospital sources said. Rescue workers said the minibus took a direct hit.

At the hospital in the southern port city of Tyre, an official said five more bodies were evacuated from the scene. Nine of the 18 civilians were children, he said.

A total of 30 civilians were killed and 45 others wounded in a series of Israeli raids across the country today.

An AFP correspondent saw the torched bodies of a father and his four children, the oldest aged seven, at the government hospital in the southern port city of Tyre.

‘A logistics team has retrieved 13 bodies,’ an officer with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) told AFP. A rescue worker who transported the first bodies to Tyre said five more were left in the minibus.

Ten other people were transported to hospital for treatment for burns and fractures, medics said. Four of them were hit in the minibus and the six others – a couple and their four children – in a small car.

Thousands of Lebanese have been fleeing the border area after Israeli shelling and warnings to residents to leave in order to prevent Hizbollah guerrillas from hiding among civilians.

Three people were also killed in another raid today when Israeli jets struck the road leading to the main crossing of Masnaa between Lebanon and Syria, blocking passage across the border, police said.

And another three civilians were killed when Israeli jets fired missiles near a bridge on the outskirts of the north-eastern town of Hermel on the border with Syria.

An Iraqi was killed and three other workers were wounded in an attack at a fuel station near the southern coastal city of Sidon, police said.

At least 92 civilians have been killed and some 252 wounded since Israel began its assault on Lebanon after the capture of two soldiers and the killing of eight others by the Syrian-backed militant group Hizbollah early on Wednesday.

Israel said today its air force was also “bombing roads and bridges on the border between Lebanon and Syria to prevent Hizbollah from taking our captured soldiers out of the country”.

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