UN appalled by Beirut devastation



The UN's Jan Egeland has condemned the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Beirut, saying it is a violation of humanitarian law.

Mr Egeland, the UN's emergency relief chief, described the destruction as "horrific" as he toured the city.

He arrived hours after another Israeli strike on Beirut. Israel also hit Sidon, a port city in the south crammed with refugees, for the first time.

In Haifa, two people were killed amid a volley of rockets on the Israeli city.

Fifteen people are reported injured by the rockets, launched by Hezbollah militants over the border with Lebanon.

The BBC News website's Raffi Berg visited the scene of one of the rocket attacks in northern Haifa.

He says the rocket exploded next to a carriageway, raking passing cars with shrapnel and ball bearings. A man in a nearby vehicle was killed outright, his car left looking as if it had been sprayed with machine gun fire.

'Block after block'
Mr Egeland arrived in southern Beirut on Sunday just hours after Israeli strikes on the Hezbollah stronghold, and the ruins of high-rise apartment blocks were still smouldering.

A visibly moved Mr Egeland expressed shock that "block after block" of buildings had been levelled.

"It makes it a violation of humanitarian law," he said.

Mr Egeland appealed for both sides to put a halt to attacks.

He said UN supplies of humanitarian aid would begin to arrive in the next few days.

"But we need safe access," he said. "So far Israel is not giving us access."

Israel has said it will lift its blockade on Beirut's port to allow aid through, but correspondents point out that roads, bridges and trucks have all been targeted by the Israeli air force, making it extremely difficult for aid supplies to reach regions where they are most needed.

Multi-national force
Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz has said that Israel would agree to the deployment of a multi-national force in southern Lebanon.

Mr Peretz, who was speaking after a meeting in Jerusalem with the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Israel would support the deployment of a Nato force, "due to the weakness of the Lebanese army".

But he stressed that the current operation in Lebanon would continue until Hezbollah had been pushed away from the border, and reiterated that the fate of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah was key to resolving the crisis.

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will leave for the Middle East later on Sunday.

Envoys from France and Britain are also holding talks in Israel to look for ways to resolve the crisis.

Kim Howells, a UK junior foreign minister, is due to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a day after accusing Israel of targeting not Hezbollah but "the entire Lebanese nation".

Sidon targeted
Israel's bombing campaign continued, with strikes on Beirut and on southern and eastern Lebanon in the early hours of Sunday.

The news agency Reuters reports at least three Lebanese civilians killed.

One target was the southern port of Sidon, a city not previously targeted by Israel.

The BBC's Roger Hearing in the city reports that a mosque was destroyed in one strike, which hit less than 500m (550 yards) from a hospital.

While Israel said the mosque was a meeting place for Hezbollah militants, local doctors insisted it was just "a place for prayers".

Our correspondent says that until now the people of Sidon and about 42,000 refugees who have flooded in from the surrounding countryside had seen the city as safe from attacks.

Ground campaign
Reuters quotes Israel's Army Radio as saying more troops were expected to move into southern Lebanon on Sunday in a broadening of the ground campaign.

More than 350 Lebanese have been killed in the 11 days of violence, many of them civilians, and angry protests condemning Israeli attacks have been held in cities around the world.

At least 36 Israelis have been killed, including 17 civilians killed by rockets fired by Hezbollah into Israel.