Israel expands aggression still further


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Israeli planes strike southern suburb of Beirut

Lebanon calls for cease-fire; Ahmadinejad warns against attacking Syria

The Associated Press

Updated: 10:50 p.m. ET July 13, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel continued its furious military campaign against 
Lebanon¹s main airport, highways, military bases and other targets Friday, 
retaliating for scores of Hezbollah guerrilla rockets that rained down on Israel
and reached as far as Haifa, its third-largest city, for the first time.

The death toll in two days of fighting rose to 57 people with the sudden burst 
of violence sending shock waves through a region already traumatized by Iraq and
the ongoing battles in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. It shattered the
relative calm in Lebanon that followed Israel¹s pullout from its occupied zone 
in south Lebanon in 2000 and the withdrawal of Syrian forces last year.

Israel¹s target was Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant Shiite faction which 
has a free hand in southern Lebanon and also holds seats in parliament. 
Hezbollah sparked the current conflict Wednesday with a cross-border raid that 
captured two of Israel¹s soldiers.

Two Israeli civilians and eight Israeli soldiers have also been killed, the 
military¹s highest death toll in four years.

Israel said it was determined to beat Hezbollah back and deny the militant 
fighters positions they have held along the border since 2000.

The Lebanese government, caught in the middle, pleaded for a cease-fire to the 
U.N. Security Council, which set an urgent meeting for Friday.

³If the government of Lebanon fails to deploy its forces, as is expected of a 
sovereign government, we shall not allow Hezbollah forces to remain any further 
on the borders of the state of Israel,² Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz 

ŒNothing is safe¹

Amid the violence, Israeli army chief Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz warned that ³nothing
is safe² in Lebanon.

Israeli warplanes stepped up the pressure early Friday, striking targets in the 
southern suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah has its political headquarters, 
security officials said.

Explosions from at least seven missiles were heard, according to two AP 
journalists and other witnesses near the scene.

The raid came just a few hours after Israeli planes dropped leaflets in south 
Beirut warning residents to avoid areas where Hezbollah operates.

Fears mounted among Arab and European governments that violence in Lebanon could
spiral out of control.

Israeli analysts warned that Syria, which supports Hezbollah and plays host to 
Hamas¹ political leader Khaled Mashaal, could be Israel¹s next target.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said any Israeli attack against Syria 
would be an aggression on the whole Islamic world and warned of a harsh 
reaction, the official Iranian news agency reported Friday.

The agency said Ahmadinejad made the comments in a telephone call to Syrian 
President Bashar Assad.

Lebanon held responsible

Israel says it holds Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's abduction of two 
soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser, 31 and Eldad Regev, 26. The Lebanese government 
insisted it had no prior knowledge of the move and did not condone it ‹ and even
withdrew its ambassador to the U.S. after he made comments seemingly in support 
of the guerrillas.

Hezbollah fighters operate with almost total autonomy in southern Lebanon, and 
the government has no control over their actions. But the government has long 
resisted international pressure to disarm the group. Any attempt to disarm 
Hezbollah by force could lead to sectarian conflict.

With Beirut¹s international airport closed after Israeli bombs ripped apart its 
runway, many tourists were trapped while others drove over the mountains to 
Syria ‹ though Israeli warplanes struck the highway linking Beirut to the Syrian
capital of Damascus early Friday, closing the country's main artery and further 
isolating Lebanon from the outside world.

Iran: Israel Œtalking absurdities¹

Beirut residents stayed indoors, leaving the streets of the capital largely 
empty. Others packed supermarkets to stock up on goods. Long lines formed on gas
stations, with many quickly running out of gas.

Israel said its attacks were to prevent the movement of the captured soldiers 
and hamper Hezbollah¹s military capacity. It said it had information Hezbollah 
was trying to take the two soldiers to its ally, Iran.

³We have concerns that they could be taken out of Lebanon to Iran. Those 
concerns have a basis,² said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. He did not 
disclose the source of his information.

Iran¹s Foreign Ministry denied the allegations. ³I strongly deny such reports,² 
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. ³Because of its desperation 
and increasing isolation in the world and because of the tension and crisis 
created inside Israel, it is now talking absurdities.²

Israel threatens Œa heavy price¹

Fears mounted among Arab and European governments that violence in Lebanon could
spiral out of control in a volatile region already torn by conflicts in Iraq and
in Gaza. Israel launched an offensive in Gaza against Hamas, whose fighters are 
holding another Israeli soldier captured two weeks ago.

Hezbollah¹s rocket attack on the port city of Haifa was its deepest such strike 
into northern Israel yet. No injuries were reported in Haifa, home to 270,000 
residents and a major oil refinery 30 miles south of the border. Still, the 
Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, called the attack ³a 
major, major escalation.²

³Those who fire into such a densely populated area will pay a heavy price,² said
David Baker, an official in the Israeli prime minister¹s office.

Hezbollah¹s deputy leader denied its fighters fired on Haifa, but Israel blamed 
the group, which had warned earlier in the day it would strike the city if 
Beirut were targeted. Israeli officials said it was a Katyusha rocket launched 
from southern Lebanon. Witnesses also confirmed that a rocket hit the city.

The militants also fired rockets at four other northern Israeli towns, killing a
40-year-old woman on her balcony in Nahariya and a man in Safad.

Soon after the Haifa attack, Israeli helicopter gunships raked fuel depots at 
Beirut¹s seaside airport with machine guns and missiles.

The tanks exploded, sending gigantic flames into the night sky just outside 
Beirut. Earlier in the day, warplanes shut down the airport with strikes that 
pounded craters into all three of its runways, and Israeli warships sealed 
Lebanon¹s ports.

ŒIt¹s a massacre¹

By evening, strikes in Hezbollah¹s stronghold in Beirut¹s southern neighborhoods
appeared imminent. After nightfall Israeli planes dropped leaflets in south 
Beirut warning residents to avoid areas where Hezbollah operates.

Among the Lebanese dead were a family of 10 and another family of seven, killed 
when strikes hit their homes in the southern village of Dweir.

³It¹s a massacre,² said Abu Talal, a 48-year-old resident who joined scores of 
Hezbollah supporters and townspeople at the funeral of Shiite cleric Sheik Adel 
Akkash, who was killed along with his wife and eight children, ages 3 months to 
15 years. ³This is the (Israeli) arrogance. The raids aim to terrorize us, but 
morale is high.²

The last time Israeli strikes targeted Beirut was in 2000, when warplanes hit a 
power station in the hills above the city after a Hezbollah attack killed 
Israeli soldiers. Israel has not hit Beirut¹s airport since its 1982 invasion of
Lebanon and occupation of the capital.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be 
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


© 2006

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