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At Least Four Israeli Soldiers Die As Violence Escalates in Lebanon

At least four Israeli soldiers were killed and six wounded during heavy ground fighting Thursday in the southern Lebanon security zone.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed the casualties, saying the soldiers were killed during fighting with Islamic militants in the western sector of the security zone.

In statements issued from Beirut, the Amal and Hezbollah Lebanese Shi’ite movements each claimed responsibility for the Israeli casualties.

Thursday’s heavy ground fighting came after several days of relative lull in the area.

A spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in the region said that Israeli and South Lebanon Army forces were engaged Thursday in a “large-scale operation” in the security zone.

Earlier in the day, two Amal members were killed in a clash with Israeli troops north of the security zone, according to reports.

No Israelis were hurt in that clash, which occurred when Israeli and SLA troops ambushed an Amal unit.

Also on Thursday, Israeli planes raided suspected Hezbollah targets in the eastern sector of the security zone.

Lebanese security sources said two planes fired two rockets at an abandoned house on a road leading to Hezbollah positions. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Thursday’s violence came in the wake of fierce fighting last week, which was marked by a deadly series of tit-for-tat escalations.

Hezbollah last week launched its heaviest Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel since April 1996, when a U.S.-brokered cease-fire brought an end to more than two weeks of cross-border fighting.

No Israelis were killed in the Aug. 19 attack, which Hezbollah launched to avenge the shelling a day earlier of the Lebanese port city of Sidon by Israel’s ally, the SLA. At least six people were reported killed in that attack.

The recent fighting — which represents the worst flare-up on Israel’s northern border in more than a year — has prompted concerns about a major military confrontation.

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