Israeli military calls up 30,000 reservists


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Israeli military calls up 30,000 reservists
Lebanese official: 600 civilians killed; Rice may return to region
The Associated Press

Updated: 12:05 a.m. ET July 28, 2006

TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel¹s government decided Thursday not to expand its battle
with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon for now, but authorized the army to call up 
30,000 reserve soldiers in case the fighting intensifies. Lebanese officials 
estimated a civilian death toll as high as 600.

Israeli Radio reported that Israeli aircraft hit 130 targets in Lebanon on 
Thursday and early Friday, including a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, where
long-range rockets were stored.

With Hezbollah allies Iran and Syria reportedly meeting in Damascus to discuss 
the crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was ³willing and ready²
to return to the region to work for a sustainable peace agreement.

But President Bush suggested he would support the offensive for as long as it 
takes to cripple Hezbollah. He also sharply condemned Iran for its support of 
the Shiite Muslim militant group.

The call-up signaled that Israel was settling in for a much longer battle than 
had initially been expected, one that could grow far bloodier if Israel decides 
its air attacks and small-scale invasion into Lebanon are not working and sends 
in thousands of more ground forces.

With no end in sight after 16 days of intense fighting, al-Qaida¹s No. 2 man 
vowed to attack ³everywhere² until Islam prevails.

In recent days, senior Israeli generals urged the government to authorize a 
broader ground campaign in southern Lebanon, which they said would help the 
thousands of troops already engaged in bloody battles there.

Israel¹s security Cabinet authorized the army to call up three additional 
reserve divisions to refresh the troops in Lebanon if they are needed, but 
rejected the generals¹ advice to expand the offensive.

However, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said the failure of world leaders to call 
for an immediate cease-fire at a summit in Rome gave Israel a green light to 
carry on with its campaign to crush Hezbollah ‹ an assertion hotly rejected by 
European officials.

Wednesday¹s conference ended in disagreement, with most European leaders calling
for an immediate cease-fire and the United States wanting to give Israel more 
time to neutralize Hezbollah.

³We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world .... to 
continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won¹t be located in Lebanon 
and until it is disarmed,² Ramon told Israel¹s Army Radio.

European leaders said Ramon was mistaken.

³I would say just the opposite ‹ yesterday in Rome it was clear that everyone 
present wanted to see an end to the fighting as swiftly as possible,² German 
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon on Thursday struck roads and houses, many
believed to be the deserted homes of Hezbollah activists, in the apple-growing 
region of Iqlim al-Tuffah. The strikes caused casualties, but fighting kept 
ambulances and civil defense crews from the areas, security officials and 
witnesses said.

Other strikes hit a Lebanese army base in the north, while artillery and 
warplanes pounded the area near the border, according to witnesses. However, the
fierce ground battles that raged Wednesday for the border towns of Bint Jbail 
and nearby Maroun al-Ras appeared to have abated, with U.N. observers reporting 
only ³sporadic fighting² there.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the strategic damage to Hezbollah was 
³enormous² and said the group would ³not return to what it was.²

Israel launched its offensive in Lebanon on July 12, after Hezbollah guerrillas 
overran the border, killed three Israeli soldiers on patrol and captured two 

Since then, up to 600 civilians in Lebanon have been killed in a punishing 
campaign of airstrikes, artillery shelling and clashes. Lebanese Health Minister
Jawad Khalifeh told The Associated Press on Thursday that 382 were confirmed 
dead and the rest either known to be buried under the rubble of buildings or 

The civilian deaths, combined with casualty figures released by the Lebanese 
army and Hezbollah guerrillas, bring the confirmed death toll on the Lebanese 
side to at least 437 killed.

Fifty-two Israelis have been killed in 16 days of fighting, including 33 
soldiers and 19 civilians who died in Hezbollah rocket attacks into northern 
Israel. The guerrillas shot 110 rockets into Israel on Thursday, wounding 20 
people and bringing the total of rockets launched to 1,564.

The army broadcast a warning on its Arabic-language radio station Thursday 
telling Lebanese in the south that their villages would be ³totally destroyed² 
if rockets were fired from them.

Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said there have been hundreds of Hezbollah 
casualties and that ³we have caused serious damage to their rocket-launching 

But Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a staunch supporter of Hezbollah, said 
Israel would never be able to crush the group militarily, and should stop 
fighting and start talking.

³Whatever it (Israel) does it¹s not going to reach its goal,² he told The 
Associated Press. ³They¹re not going to be able to take out the weaponry of 
Hezbollah. So all they¹re doing is massive destruction.²

Meanwhile, al-Qaida issued its first response to the violence, threatening to 
retaliate with new attacks.

The videotape by Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahri was an effort by the 
terror network to rally Islamic militants by exploiting Israel¹s two-pronged 
offensive ‹ against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas-linked militants in Gaza.

³We cannot just watch these shells as they burn our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon
and stand by idly, humiliated,² al-Zawahri said, adding that ³all the world is a
battlefield open in front of us.²

³The war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires. ... It is a jihad (holy 
war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from 
Spain to Iraq,² he said. ³We will attack everywhere.²

In Damascus, Syrian and Iranian officials gathered to hold meetings on the 
crisis, according to Iranian and Kuwaiti news reports. Hezbollah leader Sheik 
Hassan Nasrallah was also to take part in the meeting along with Syrian 
President Bashar Assad, according to Kuwait¹s Al-Siyassah newspaper, known for 
its opposition to the Syrian regime.

The newspaper said the meeting was designed to discuss ways to maintain supplies
to Hezbollah with ³Iranian arms flowing through Syrian territories.²

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahhal would not comment on whether Nasrallah, whose
movements are kept secret, was in Damascus. However, Rahhal was dismissive of 
the Kuwaiti newspaper report.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking in Rome after meeting with Italian
Premier Romano Prodi, said intense negotiations were under way to free an 
Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants. However, a Palestinian 
lawmaker and a spokesman for the Hamas military denied that the soldier¹s 
release could be imminent.

With cease-fire efforts stalemated, Rice ‹ who was in Malaysia after a trip to 
Beirut, Jerusalem and the Rome conference ‹ said she was prepared to make a 
second tour of the Middle East. No timetable was announced.

³I am more than happy to go back,² Rice said, if her efforts can ³move toward a 
sustainable cease-fire that would end the violence.²

In his interview with Army Radio, Ramon, the justice minister, said the Israeli 
air force must bomb villages before ground forces enter, suggesting that this 
would help prevent Israeli casualties. Ramon spoke a day after nine soldiers 
were killed in house-to-house fighting. Hezbollah acknowledged Thursday that it 
lost five fighters in the same clashes, though Israel said at least 30 were 

Asked whether entire villages should be flattened, he said: ³These places are 
not villages. They are military bases in which Hezbollah people are hiding and 
from which they are operating.²

Thousands of civilians are believed trapped in southern Lebanon, according to 
humanitarian officials.

International Red Cross spokesman Hisham Hassan said their teams that have 
visited border villages under heavy bombardment have found families hiding in 
schools, mosques and churches, or huddled together in homes they hope will 
withstand the barrage.

³But even the residents we speak to can¹t say how many are there, because 
everyone¹s hiding, they don¹t know who¹s dead or alive,² he said.

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


© 2006

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