METULLA, Israel — Hezbollah fighters pounded northern Israel on Wednesday with their largest rocket barrage to date, defying three weeks of punishing air attacks and a ground offensive by thousands of Israeli troops, who have seized up to a quarter of southern Lebanon.
An Israeli man was killed on a kibbutz north of the coastal town of Nahariya by one of the more than 230 rockets that rained down on northern Israel, setting fires, smashing buildings and injuring dozens of people. Two rockets fell in the West Bank, about 40 miles south of the Lebanese frontier, the deepest such strike to date.
Across a sprawling northern front, Israeli forces shelled Lebanese border villages and launched more airstrikes after a 48-hour lull in attacks. Israeli planes hit dozens of targets before dawn today, including strikes on Beirut's southern suburbs, the first in nearly a week.
On the ground, up to 10,000 Israeli troops were in action, military officials indicated. One Israeli soldier was killed Wednesday and four hurt in the massive operation, which is aimed at driving Hezbollah fighters from the border.
Columns of smoke and dust rose as shells hammered a hillside near the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila, across the border from the Israeli town of Metulla. A few miles away, three huge plumes billowed from what appeared to be the targets of Israeli airstrikes.
The Israeli military said early today that its probe of Sunday's bombardment of a building in Qana, Lebanon, which killed dozens of civilians, had concluded that Israel's action fell within guidelines.
The army repeated regrets over civilian deaths but said it had no reason to believe civilians were in the area, and pointed out that noncombatants had been told to leave. Human rights groups, however, have denounced the strike as a possible war crime.
The Israeli campaign in the Gaza Strip heated up as well. Troops and tanks made their deepest push into southern Gaza in the nearly 6-week-old offensive there. At least five Palestinians were reported killed today.
Diplomacy continued to founder. France, which wrote a draft U.N. cease-fire resolution and could provide troops for any international force deployed in southern Lebanon, announced that it would not take part in a meeting today of countries that might contribute soldiers. The meeting was eventually canceled. In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for a halt to the conflict, which has killed at least 540 Lebanese and 55 Israelis.
In Malaysia, the Organization of the Islamic Conference met today to muster support for a cease-fire, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian relief efforts, the Associated Press reported.
Hezbollah said Wednesday that it had used Syrian-made Khaibar 1 rockets in the strikes that hit the West Bank near the Israeli town of Beit Shean in the Jordan Valley, fueling fears that it possesses long-range rockets.
With the fighting in its fourth week, Hezbollah's ability to keep firing rockets has been a source of surprise and dismay to Israel. The more than 2,000 rockets fired amount to the most concerted attack on Israeli towns and cities since the country's war of independence in 1948.
It was unclear how many rockets remained or whether the guerrillas were getting fresh supplies despite the constant Israeli bombing.
The stepped-up rocket attacks by Hezbollah came hours after an early-morning raid by helicopter-borne Israeli commandos in the northern Lebanese town of Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley.
The raiders captured five Hezbollah members and killed at least 19 fighters, the Israeli military said.
Lebanese authorities reported civilian casualties in the strike and it was not immediately clear whether those fatalities were included in the toll reported by Israel.
The first rocket attack fatality in eight days on the Israeli side was identified as a 52-year-old man who had emigrated from Boston about 20 years ago. He was hit while riding his bicycle home in the tiny community of Kibbutz Saar after warning sirens sounded, Israeli media reported.
Israeli warplanes Wednesday mounted wide-ranging airstrikes, hitting about 100 targets described as Hezbollah structures, rocket launchers and launch sites. The Israeli army said it had no information on reports that a Lebanese military base in the village of Sarba was hit, killing a soldier.
Commanders say they are focusing on a strip several miles deep, but they also have said that some troops have pushed north past the Litani River, as far as 12 miles into Lebanon.
Israeli forces have established control over one-fifth to a quarter of southern Lebanon, said Brig. Gen. Guy Zur, who commands a combined armored and infantry division deployed in the area. Zur told reporters that Israeli troops were fighting Hezbollah guerrillas in about half a dozen villages along a 25-mile stretch of the border, and that the resistance was stiff.