Deadliest Day Yet in Assault on Lebanon
Thursday, July 20, 2006
BEIRUT, July 19 -- Israeli warplanes continued their punishing airstrikes across Lebanon on Wednesday, including for the first time striking Beirut's main Christian enclave and later bombing a bunker believed to be sheltering Hezbollah leaders. Ground troops meanwhile launched their most significant incursion so far into southern Lebanon, joining attacks that killed more than 50 Lebanese on the deadliest day since hostilities erupted eight days ago.
Hezbollah in return fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel, hitting Haifa and, for the first time, Nazareth, where two Israeli Arab boys were killed.
Israeli troops punched across the border about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean and clashed with fighters from the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, which Israel says it wants to uproot from southern Lebanon and disarm. Israeli officials qualified the incursion as a short-term raid, similar to those carried out over the last several days, but both sides suffered casualties after an Israeli squad came under fire and an Israeli tank hit a land mine, according to reports in Israel and Lebanon.
About 9 p.m., the Israeli military attacked a bunker used by senior members of Hezbollah, a military spokesman said. An Israeli military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said dozens of planes were involved, dropping about 23 tons of explosives on the bunker. Hezbollah told news services that none of its leaders or members were killed in the strike.
The tempo of air attacks, along with the new ground operation, eclipsed diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed and prompted an emotional appeal from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora for international help in stopping the bombing on humanitarian grounds.
Israeli officials said they planned to pursue attacks on Hezbollah and Lebanese infrastructure for at least another week before making room for peacemaking. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to travel to Israel early next week to try to get a diplomatic solution started, U.S. officials said, but for the moment the armed conflict continued unabated.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international aid agencies cited growing concern over the number of Lebanese civilians being displaced by the Israeli air campaign, particularly in the hard-hit villages and towns of southern Lebanon. The number forced to leave their homes was estimated at 500,000 in a country with a population of 4 million.
Hezbollah missiles, which have been fired regularly into northern Israel since hostilities erupted, on Wednesday landed in the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth. Two brothers -- Rabia Taluzeh, 3, and Mahmoud, 8 -- were killed around 5 p.m. as they were walking to their uncle's house when two rockets landed in the center of a main street running through the Safrefeh neighborhood in Israel's largest Arab city.
Police officials said as many as eight others were wounded in the rocket strike, while scores more were treated in local hospitals for shock. A third rocket crashed into a nearby garage, police said, but no one was injured.
"When I came out, I started taking wounded into my apartment," said Hussam Saleh, 28, who owns a residential building along the street. "I saw the two kids lying in the street, dead on the spot. One had been hit in the head, the other in the body."
Nazareth, a city of 75,000 people, has no public bomb shelters or early-warning sirens commonplace in other Israeli cities across the north.
Another 10 missiles rained down on Haifa, hitting an apartment building. In all, more than 100 missiles and rockets were fired into northern Israel, causing dozens of light injuries in addition to the two deaths, Israeli officials reported.