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New rockets fired deep into Israel

TYRE, Lebanon -- Hezbollah launched a new kind of rocket yesterday that made its deepest strike into Israel yet, while Israeli warplanes and artillery blasted apartment buildings and roads gunning for guerrillas.

Lebanese officials said about 12 civilians died in the day's fighting; Israel said it killed 26 militants, raising to about 230 the total number killed in the 18-day-old offensive.

Beaches in Beirut were black with oil spilled from a power station that was blasted by Israel two weeks ago and was still burning. In the south, rescue workers dug through the rubble of bombed houses, looking for bodies. Israel deployed a Patriot interceptor missile battery north of Tel Aviv, believing the area could be in range of Hezbollah's barrages.

Late yesterday, the Israeli Army said it killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas in fighting for the Shi'ite town of Bint Jbail. Israel Radio said six soldiers were wounded.

Hezbollah said its guerrillas attacked Israeli troops on a ridge overlooking Bint Jbail and in Maroun al-Ras, which Israeli troops overran last weekend. The guerrillas said five Israeli soldiers were wounded.

Eight Israelis died fighting for control of Bint Jbail on Wednesday, the highest toll of the campaign. Bint Jbail had the largest Shi'ite community along the border; it was known as the ``capital of the resistance" during Israel's 1982-2000 occupation because of its support for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah for the first time unveiled a weapon that raises that threat. The guerrillas said they used a new rocket, the Khaibar-1 -- named after the site of a historic battle between Islam's Prophet Mohammed and Jewish tribes -- to strike the Israeli town of Afula.

Five of the rockets crashed into empty fields outside Afula, causing no injuries.

Israel said the rockets were renamed, Iranian-made Fajr-5s. They have four times the power and range of Katyusha rockets, making them able to hit Tel Aviv's northern outskirts.

Hundreds of Katyushas have hit northern Israel in the current fighting, including 96 yesterday, one of which hit a hospital. The Afula strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed his guerrillas would fire rockets beyond Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, which has been hit repeatedly in the conflict.

The Israeli Army said a half-million Israelis were living in shelters in northern Israel because of the rocket bombardments. UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland told CNN that 800,000 Lebanese had fled or were caught in crossfire.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to head back to the Middle East this weekend to make a second attempt to resolve the crisis, but diplomatic efforts were solidifying into two sharply divided camps. Most agree on the idea of bringing international forces into the south to end Hezbollah's decade-long free rein here -- but still unresolved is how and when.

The United States, backed by Britain, wants the force to be part of a broad package that will disarm guerrillas along the border and move in the Lebanese Army to end the Hezbollah threat to Israel once and for all. It says it won't press for a cease-fire until such an agreement is reached.

Many Europeans and Arab countries are increasing the pressure for a cease-fire first .

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