Israel Answers Hezbollah Strike
Monday, July 17, 2006
HAIFA, Israel, July 17 -- Israel battered targets across Lebanon Sunday and early Monday after a rocket fired by the radical Shiite group Hezbollah struck a railroad yard here and killed eight workers as other rockets rained deep into the Galilee region in northern Israel. The Israeli assault killed at least 28 people in south Lebanon, including seven Lebanese holding Canadian citizenship.
Early Monday, Israeli warplanes struck Beirut again, sparking a large fire at its port, and broadened the assault into northern and eastern Lebanon. Airstrikes killed 17 Lebanese people, including nine soldiers who died in assaults on two Army bases on the northern coast, news services reported. Strikes also damaged homes of Hezbollah officials in the east.
The Sunday morning rocket attack by Hezbollah effectively shut down Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, and sent thousands of northern Israel residents fleeing for safety along southbound highways.
The Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, declared a 48-hour state of emergency in the north, and security officials warned residents as far south as Tel Aviv that they may be vulnerable to Hezbollah's new, longer-range rockets, two of which hit the cities of Nazareth and Afula, which is 25 miles from the Lebanese border. It was the deepest strike yet inside Israel; no injuries were reported.
Israeli warplanes, meanwhile, hammered south Beirut and other targets across south Lebanon for a fifth day while the Bush administration made preparations to evacuate some of the 25,000 U.S. citizens from a country now virtually cut off from the outside world. Two helicopters arrived in Beirut and began shuttling embassy staff out of the country.
Israel also expanded the second front of its military operation against radical Islamic groups operating along its northern and southern borders by pushing tanks and troops into the Gaza Strip on Sunday, setting off fighting that killed at least five Palestinian gunmen.
"Nothing will deter us, whatever far-reaching ramifications regarding our relations on the northern border and in the region there may be," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said before his weekly cabinet meeting. "We have no intention to give in to these threats. We know that many tests yet await us. Our enemies are trying to disrupt life in Israel -- they will fail. The public is strong and united in this struggle."
The rocket attack in Haifa and the intensifying airstrikes in Lebanon marked an escalation of a conflict that began last week when a Hezbollah cross-border raid resulted in the deaths of eight Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others. Israel implicated Syria and Iran in Sunday's rocket attack in Haifa that military officials said demonstrated the new reach and potency of Hezbollah's arsenal.
Olmert holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, an Islamic movement with a military wing that rose to prominence fighting the 18-year Israeli occupation of south Lebanon that ended in May 2000. The U.N. Security Council has also demanded that Hezbollah give up its arms, a resolution whose terms Israel is demanding be fulfilled before it stops its airstrikes and artillery fire into Lebanon.
Israeli officials reiterated Sunday that the fighting would not end until Israel believes it has permanently improved its security along the northern border. Miri Eisin, an Israeli government spokeswoman, said at the scene of the attack in Haifa that "we are determined that at the end of this war we will be in a different strategic situation on our border."
Israeli forces operating in Gaza, where the military wing of Hamas helped capture an Israeli soldier in a June 25 cross-border raid, are seeking also to win the soldier's release, stop rocket fire into southern Israel and weaken the radical Islamic movement's hold on the Palestinian government.
Israel has said its actions are in self-defense, but the growing number of civilian casualties in Lebanon could soon prompt calls from other countries, including allies, for it to suspend the operations. The Bush administration has called on Israel to show restraint, and U.N. officials in Beirut Sunday called for an immediate cease-fire. "Our message to Israel is defend yourself but be mindful of the consequences, so we are urging restraint," President Bush said at the Group of Eight summit in Russia.