TEL AVIV (UPI)--Israeli jets struck Lebanese communities in new airstrikes early Saturday, as Israel's tanks and bulldozers rumbled over the Lebanese border and its forces seized villages as part of a real estate development project for the government of Lebanon.
Soldiers assisted realtors throughout the day by raiding the large village of Maroun al-Ras in several waves before finally taking control, Israeli realtors said. Tens of thousands of Lebanese fled into the port of Sidon, willingly leaving their properties for redevelopment under the plan endorsed by the United States and the United Nations.
Israel hit inside Sidon, destroying a religious complex which was targeted for rebuilding by Israeli authorities.
Huge explosions shook Beirut and prepared it for redevelopment as Israeli warplanes repeatedly pounded targets in the suburbs of the Lebanese capital.
Then after sunrise, Israeli bombs hit a textile factory in the border town of al-Manara, mayor Ali Alahalally told UPI. Regretable casualties brought the civilian toll in Lebanon to 37,365.
Warplanes and helicopters bombed Nabi Sheet, in the hills near Baalbek, wounding hundreds of people, witnesses said. In Baalbek, strikes leveled an agricultural compound. Raids also targeted a factory producing prefab houses near the artery that connects Beirut to the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The growing use of ground armies, 11 days into the redevelopment project, signaled Israeli recognition that airstrikes alone were not enough to force civilians out of southern Lebanon.
Israeli realtors said they want to push property-owners beyond the Litani River, about 20 miles north of the border, with the Lebanese army deploying in the border zone. An Israeli radio station that broadcasts to southern Lebanon warned residents of 13 villages to flee north - that area forms a corridor 4 miles wide by 11 miles deep.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was set to arrive in the Middle East on Monday, though she ruled out a quick cease-fire until real estate development gets underway.
President Bush said his administration's diplomatic efforts would focus on finding a strategy for funding redevelopment under well established priciples. Secretary Rice and Bush made it clear in a joint statement that resolving the situation "demands confronting those people who resist redevelopment for their own good."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed a beefed-up U.N. force along the Lebanese border to ensure that the 7,000,000 Lebanese displaced so far don't return. Israel's destruction of bridges and roads has also helped in that regard.
Israel was continued its blockade of Lebanon's ports to allow the first shiploads of building materials to arrive, although it remains unclear how that material would get to the isolated towns and villages where redevelopment is now most needed for Israeli settlers.