BEIRUT - Israeli bombardment killed at least 40 civilians in Lebanon on Friday (local time) and Hizbollah launched its longest-range rocket attack of the war as world powers tried to overcome their differences on how to end the fighting.

One Israeli air strike hit a farm near Qaa, close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley where workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, were loading plums and peaches on to trucks, local officials said. They said 33 people were killed and 20 wounded.

Television footage showed bodies of what appeared to be farm workers lined up near the ruins of a small structure in fruit groves. Strewn nearby were fruit baskets.

"I was picking peaches when three bombs hit. Others were having lunch and they were torn to pieces," said Mohammad Rashed, one of the wounded. Syria's official news agency said 17 of the dead were Syrian workers, five of them women.

"The air force spotted a truck that was suspected to have been loaded with weapons cross from Syria into Lebanon on a route that is routinely used to transport weapons," an Israeli army spokesman said.

"The truck entered into a building and remained inside for an hour, then left and returned to Syria."

He said that when the truck left, the building was attacked.

It was one of the deadliest air strikes in 24 days of war. An air raid in the town of Qana on Sunday killed up to 54 civilians, Lebanese officials say. Human Rights Watch says it has confirmed 28 dead in that attack and 13 people missing.

Several Hizbollah rockets landed in or near the Israeli city of Hadera, about 80km from the Lebanese border -- the deepest rocket attack of the war so far. Hizbollah said in a statement that it had fired Khaibar 1 rockets at Hadera, partly in response to the Israeli attack on Qaa.

The United States and France inched closer to a deal on a United Nations resolution calling for an end to the fighting. Once they reach agreement, which officials said could happen over the weekend, a Security Council vote could be held within 24 hours.

"There are still some issues that we have not resolved, but I think we have come a little bit closer this morning. We will keep working on it," US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters.

Bombardment of a house in the frontline Taibeh village in south Lebanon on Friday killed seven civilians and wounded 10, a Lebanese security source said. The source said the civilians had sheltered in the house during fierce battles.

Israeli aircraft destroyed four bridges on the main coastal highway north of Beirut, disrupting efforts to aid civilians displaced or trapped by the conflict in Lebanon.

Fighting raged in the south as Israeli troops tried to expand seven small border enclaves they control.

Hizbollah guerrillas fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel, killing three people and wounding several, medics said. Rockets killed eight Israelis on Thursday.

Hizbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers with an anti-tank missile near Markaba, Israel's army said. Al Arabiya television said five Israeli soldiers had been killed. Israeli media said seven Hizbollah guerrillas also died in the battle.

The bombing of bridges in the Christian heartlands north of Beirut cut off the coastal highway to Syria, which the UN called its "umbilical cord" for aid to Lebanon.

The bridge at Maameltein, north of Beirut, was split by a huge crater. Further north, another bridge lay in the valley it once spanned.

"The whole road is gone," Astrid van Genderen Stort of the UN refugee agency said. "It's really a major setback because we used this highway to move staff and supplies into the country."

Israel said it had destroyed the bridges to prevent Syria from re-arming Hizbollah, which is also backed by Iran.

The European Commission said Israeli bombing of routes north of Beirut had made it harder to deliver humanitarian aid.

More than 150 Israeli air strikes hit south Lebanon and artillery pummelled border areas as Hizbollah tried to stop new Israeli incursions near Markaba and the coastal town of Naqoura.

Hizbollah said its fighters had destroyed eight Israeli tanks and an armoured troop carrier in fighting around the southern villages of Markaba, Aita al-Shaab and Taibeh.

Israel has put more than 10,000 troops into Lebanon and says it has carved out a zone containing 20 villages up to 7km from its border. The defence minister has ordered the army to prepare for a possible push further north.

At least 727 people in Lebanon and 74 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, ignited by a cross-border raid in which Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12.

US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch will visit Beirut on Saturday for talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Lebanese political sources said.

Once a UN resolution is agreed to halt the fighting, a second resolution is envisaged a week or two later setting down conditions for a permanent ceasefire.

Israel has also launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip to recover another captured soldier and stop Palestinian rockets. Its forces killed three Palestinians in the Strip on Friday.

- REUTERS