8 Israeli soldiers killed in fighting with Hezbollah

At least eight Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday in fighting with Hezbollah militants in the deadliest day for Israeli troops since fighting began July 12.

At least eight Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday inclashes with Hezbollah militants, marking thedeadliest day for Israeli troops since fighting across the Lebanese border began July 12.

Twenty-two other soldiers were wounded in the Lebanese town of Bint Jbail,which is believed to be a base for the militant group, Israeli army officials confirmed.

A Hezbollahspokesman and the Arab television network Al-Jazeera said 13 Israeli soldiers were killed during fighting in the town. Another Arab broadcaster, Al-Arabiya, reported as many as 14 Israelis had been killed.

Several other casualties were reported during Wednesday's fighting in nearby Maroun al-Ras, the Israeli military said.

Hezbollah also claimed to have killed a four-member Israeli intelligence unit operating between Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras, a border town captured by Israeli forces over the weekend.

Israeli troops have encountered stiff resistance from Hezbollah fighters since they crossed the Lebanese border in large numbers on Saturday. Bint Jbail is seen as important to Hezbollah because it was the one of centres of resistance when Israeli forces occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000.

Israel seeks 'security zone'

In other developments Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his countrywants to establish atwo-kilometre wide"security zone" in southern Lebanon that would be free of Hezbollah guerrillas.

Olmert gave details of theplanat a meeting of the Israeli parliament's defence and foreign affairs committee, participants toldthe Associated Press.

"We want a two-kilometre space from the border in which it will not be possible to fire rockets toward soldiers and civilians' houses and in which there will not be contact with military border patrols," Olmert reportedly told the committee.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Tuesday that Israel would establish a buffer zone in south Lebanon,but that Israel was open to the idea of handing over control of the zone to an international force once it has been established.

Peretz declined to say whether Israel would continue using ground and aerial forces to police the zone.

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah entered its 15th day on Wednesday. Lebanese officials said more than 420 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly civilians, while an estimated half a million have been forced to leave their homes. Israeli officials said 42 people have died in Israel.

Hezbollah fighters fired 119 rockets into northern Israel on Wednesday,wounding at least 31 people, whileIsraeli warplanes staged 15 air strikes in southern Lebanon.

Israeli began its offensive after Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12during a cross-border raid. Israel has pounded what it considers to be Hezbollah infrastructure in Beirut and south Lebanon, while Hezbollah has launched rockets on northern Israeli towns and cities.

Intense ground battles have also raged in southern Lebanon near border towns and villages.

An Israeli air strike killedfour UN observers on Tuesday, including a Canadian.

With files from the Associated Press