The United Nations is calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon amid growing fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

It has urged Israel and Hezbollah militants to end hostilities, and announced €10 million in aid for civilians suffering in the conflict.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said an immediate ceasefire is needed.

Mr Annan told the Security Council that a quick end to the fighting also would allow aid workers to reach those in need and would give diplomacy the chance to work out a practical package to bring a lasting solution to the current crisis.

Israel, meanwhile, has agreed to allow humanitarian aid to flow into Lebanon.

A massive operation continues to transport tens of thousands of foreigners out of Lebanon as fighting there intensifies.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is preparing for a multi-million-dollar operation to help the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the crisis in Lebanon.

An estimated 500,000 people have fled their homes after more than a week of strikes by Israeli aircraft, artillery and warships.

Although the vast majority have remained inside Lebanon, the office of the UNHCR said it was monitoring borders to gauge the number of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.

UN emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, said the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the hour.

Mr Egeland said it appeared that neither Hezbollah nor the Israeli government seemed to care about civilian suffering.

Four Israeli soldiers killed: Reports

A fourth Israeli soldier has reportedly been killed and others wounded in fighting in southern Lebanon.

It had earlier been reported that three Israeli soldiers had been killed and three wounded. The four soldiers were allegedly killed in the village of Maroun al-Ras.

Israeli media reported eight soldiers had been wounded.

An Israeli military source said the firefight took place near the northern Israeli village of Avivim, near an area where Hezbollah guerrillas killed two soldiers and wounded nine yesterday.

Earlier today, three Israeli soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, in firefights in the area.

The Israeli Army said two Hezbollah fighters were killed in that clash.

Small groups of elite Israeli troops have launched small-scale attacks on southern Lebanon in recent days to try to destroy Hezbollah positions and bunkers used to fire rockets into the Jewish state.

Israel launched its widespread bombardment of Lebanon after Hezbollah captured two soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on 12 July.

Israeli forces have killed at least 306 people in Lebanon and Hezbollah guerrillas have killed 29 people in Israel.

The border clashes have shown that the Lebanese guerrillas are still moving relatively freely near the hilly frontier despite a week of heavy artillery barrages by Israeli troops.

International diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed have yet to get off the ground, with the US refusing to back calls for a ceasefire until Hezbollah halts its rocket attacks.

29 Irish evacuees arrive in Syria

A group of 29 Irish people which was taken out of Beirut this morning by bus has arrived safely in Syria.

Six of the evacuees are travelling on to Damascus to join family and friends.

The remaining 23 are travelling to Aleppo where they will be accommodated in a hotel before being flown to London and then on to Dublin.

Flights from Syria are very heavily booked so it may take several days to get them all home. 

A number of Irish people were also among a group of 100 shipped out of the port of Tyre in southern Lebanon by the UN today.

The Irish consisted of four women and four children who are the families of Irish soldiers serving with the UN forces in Lebanon.

One other Irish national, travelling with three dependants, was also on board.

The boat was due to arrive in Cyprus at 4pm Irish time.

A diplomatic official from the Irish Embassy in Nicosia will be there to meet it. Overnight accommodation and flights to Ireland have been arranged.

80 Irish citizens left the capital, Beirut, on Monday and travelled across the Syrian border to Damascus. They flew into Dublin Airport yesterday morning.