Calls for Cease-Fire in Lebanon Intensify
Monday, July 24, 2006
SIDON, Lebanon, July 23 -- Despite mounting pressure for a humanitarian cease-fire, Hezbollah militiamen fired mortal rocket volleys into the Israeli port city of Haifa on Sunday, killing two civilians, and Israeli warplanes blasted a minibus carrying Lebanese villagers trying to flee the fighting, turning the vehicle into an instant inferno and killing three.
The steadily climbing civilian toll and a fast-growing number of refugees, here in Sidon and in other cities across Lebanon, led to renewed appeals from European and Arab leaders for an immediate truce and a swift international response to the humanitarian crisis created by 12 days of relentless warfare in which civilians have been the principal casualties.
The Israeli military agreed to allow relief shipments by sea into Beirut and to "facilitate" onward delivery, officials said, but it would not issue a blanket guarantee for trucks that would carry supplies southward toward the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre and the dozens of border villages where relief is urgently needed.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, traveled to Beirut, the Lebanese capital 25 miles north of here, and called for a cease-fire and measures to allow humanitarian operations to get started on a large scale. After a tour of southern Beirut, where Israelis have bombed repeatedly -- and where they struck again soon after Egeland left -- he called the damage to civilian neighborhoods "horrific" and said he would continue on to Israel to negotiate for more cooperation to get relief supplies to those who need them.
The minibus was carrying 19 passengers seeking to escape fighting around their home village of Tairi, in the rocky hills near the border with Israel, when the airstrike occurred. Three passengers were killed, and 16 were injured, and were taken to hospitals in Tyre, Lebanese officials said. In all, seven civilians were killed in southern Lebanon by attacking Israeli jets, Lebanese television reported.
The toll included a 75-year-old caretaker at Fatima Zahra Husseiniyah, a Hezbollah-run mosque and community center in downtown Sidon that was attacked by Israeli planes before dawn, according to Sidon relief workers who took his body to a local hospital. An adjacent school was badly damaged by the blast, which left its walls pockmarked and surrounding trees torn to shreds.
At the same time, Israeli officials said, two Israeli civilians were killed when militia forces of Hezbollah, the radical Shiite movement, fired 15 missiles on Haifa, 18 miles south of the border. Fifteen civilians were wounded in the attack, according to Zaki Heller of the Israeli medical emergency service Magen David Adom.
According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, one of those killed was identified as Habib Awad, 48, of Iblin, a Christian village near the Lebanese border, who was working in a carpentry shop north of downtown Haifa. The other was Shimon Glikblich, 60, of Haifa, who died when a rocket crashed down along a hillside highway overlooking the port, blasting hundreds of tiny ball bearings through his white sedan. Medical personnel carted away two wounded passengers and used blankets to cover Glikblich's body in the street beside the riddled vehicle, its seats and dashboard splashed with blood.
Haifa officials expressed particular concern about the highway attack because it was a half-mile from a large industrial complex that includes an oil refinery and chemical plants, which if hit could cause devastating damage.
Israeli military officials estimated that as much as half of Haifa's population had fled to other parts of the country because of repeated missile attacks. Mayor Yona Yahav warned those who remained to be vigilant.
"I think that it's very human and expected that people, after staying inside for a few days, especially during summer vacation, want to be outside," Yahav said at the scene of the highway attack. "But this is not a normal situation, and people have to behave differently." Moments after he spoke, sirens sounded again and the mayor, along with dozens of reporters and emergency workers, crouched or lay on the roadside until the blaring stopped with no rockets having fallen.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said a total of about 90 Hezbollah rockets and missiles were fired into Israel on Sunday, striking a dozen communities from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. Hezbollah has sustained the rocket attacks despite unstinting pounding by Israeli artillery and aircraft, leading to predictions that the Israeli military plans larger-scale ground operations soon on the Lebanese side of the border to locate Hezbollah positions and launch sites.