Israeli air strikes killed 42 people across Lebanon today, including 10 civilians hit on a southern bridge.

It was the sixth day of a bombardment that has wreaked the heaviest destruction in Lebanon for over 20 years.

Rescuers also pulled nine bodies from the wreckage of a building in the southern city of Tyre that was bombed on Sunday, raising the death toll since Israel's offensive began to 204, all but 14 of them civilians.

The fighting was triggered when Hezbollah, the guerrilla group that is backed by Syria and Iran and is part of Lebanon's government, seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on northern Israel on 12 July.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Jewish state would pursue its offensive until the two soldiers were returned and the Lebanese army controlled all of south Lebanon.

'Our enemies have challenged the state of Israel's sovereignty and the peace of its citizens,' Olmert said in an address.

An Israeli government source said Israel may step up attacks in coming days, mindful its chief ally, the United States, might not resist indefinitely international pressure for a ceasefire.

Twenty-four Israelis have been killed in the fighting, including 12 civilians hit in rocket attacks.

Israeli planes hit coastal targets in the north and south, struck Beirut and damaged homes in the east belonging to members of Hizbollah, which fired more rockets deep into Israel.

Blasts rocked Beirut through the day and civilian installations, petrol stations and factories were also hit.

Israel has closed its port in the northern city of Haifa in the wake of Hezbollah rocket attacks that left eight people dead earlier today.

The port is one of the country's key shipment points.

Irish citizens bussed out

Irish citizens have been bussed out of Beirut as the Israeli bombing offensive continues.

A convoy of two buses carrying 82 people out of Lebanon left the city this morning and crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border early this afternoon. 

They arrived in Damascus this evening and will fly to Dubai and on to Dublin.

The majority of passengers are Irish citizens but there are also a small number of other EU citizens.

16 Irish people who made their own way to Damascus have contacted Irish officials there.

They have requested that they be included in any arrangements to fly Irish evacuees home to Dublin.

They are expected to arrive into Dublin on Wednesday morning.

UN envoys sent to Lebanon

In another development, three senior envoys sent by Mr Annan to Lebanon have told the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, that they support his call for a ceasefire.

In a statement issued after talks in Beirut, the UN team called on all sides to protect civilians and respect civilian infrastructure.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is also in Beirut to offer the EU's solidarity and support.

The EU has condemned Israel's response to the recent upsurge in violence as disproportionate.

Attacks on Gaza continue

The Israeli offensive is also continuing in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has been destroyed after being bombed for a second time in a week.

Separately, Israeli police have said that they detained a Palestinian suspected of being en route to carry out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

A spokesman said bomb-disposal experts found what appeared to be explosives in the man's bag.