Israelis, Hezbollah Keep Up Attacks

By Edward Cody and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 28, 2006

BEIRUT, July 27 -- With no sign of a cease-fire soon, Israeli warplanes and artillery pummeled targets across Lebanon without letup Thursday, concentrating fire on the rocky border hills where Hezbollah fighters are entrenched. The Israeli government called up thousands of reservists but decided against expanding its onslaught into a full-fledged invasion as some military officers suggested.

Undeterred after 16 days of attacks, Hezbollah militiamen again fired volleys of rockets into northern Israel, igniting a detergent factory and lightly wounding seven people. More than 110 Hezbollah rockets landed across the north on Thursday, following the launch of more than 150 rockets on Wednesday. More than 1,400 rockets have landed in Israel since the conflict began.

The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, called for a ministerial-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council by early next week to consider a cease-fire resolution designed to bring a halt to the bloodshed and begin negotiations on a permanent solution to the crisis. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Malaysia for a regional gathering, once again insisted that a cease-fire would be of no use unless it was part of a comprehensive political solution.

"The key is the extension of Lebanese government authority throughout the country, the ability of the Lebanese government to control all forces, all arms in their country -- there should be no militias -- and that Lebanon can have the assistance of a U.N.-mandated international force," Rice said.

The second-in-command of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called on Muslims worldwide to stand up against what he called "the Zionist-Crusader war" in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, making the anti-Western terrorist group's first comment on the Lebanon conflict. "How can we remain silent while watching bombs raining on our people?" he said in a statement broadcast on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television station.

President Bush, responding to Zawahiri's remarks, said, "I'm not surprised people who use terrorist tactics would start speaking out. It doesn't surprise me." He added: "Zawahiri's attitude about life is that there shouldn't be free societies. And he believes that people ought to use terrorist tactics, the killing of innocent people, to achieve his objective. And so I'm not surprised he feels like he needs to lend his voice to terrorist activities that are trying to prevent democracies from moving forward."

With no hope for a swift truce coming out of Wednesday's crisis meeting of senior diplomats in Rome, Lebanese braced for more fighting and continued destruction of the country's freshly rebuilt infrastructure. Officials warned that fuel was running short, with less than a week's supply on hand and Israel so far refusing to authorize tankers to deliver oil. Electricity was sporadic in downtown Beirut. The Israeli military continued to insist on convoy-by-convoy negotiations for delivery of relief supplies to the more than half a million refugees who have fled fighting in the south.

Israeli warplanes attacked a field of radio and television relay stations at Amchit, in the mountains 30 miles north of Beirut, and damaged equipment belonging to the national television and radio broadcasting company, according to soldiers at a nearby army base. In the eastern Bekaa Valley, Israeli airstrikes hit three trucks carrying food to Beirut, killing a driver, security sources told the Reuters news agency, and a policeman was killed when an Israeli missile incinerated his car near the Christian hill town of Zahleh.

But it was in the south that the airstrikes rained most heavily, particularly around the town of Bint Jbeil, where eight Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday in a Hezbollah ambush. A ninth was killed on a nearby mountain road when Hezbollah gunmen opened fire on an Israeli patrol between Bint Jbeil and the nearby village of Maroun al-Ras.

Fighting continued inside the town, which has long been known as a Hezbollah stronghold, said Brig. Gen. Shuki Shachar, deputy commander of Israel's northern forces, who briefed reporters at regional headquarters in Safed.

"Our ground forces are still in Bint Jbeil, continuing fighting Hezbollah terrorists inside the town," Shachar said, adding that the militia fighters had suffered greater losses than the Israeli military. "We have inflicted on the enemy during this battle double and triple casualties."

Israeli commanders had earlier said the town was under control, but Shachar said the army never intended to conquer Bint Jbeil. Rather, he said, its goal was to "control the town from outside" and raid specific targets based on intelligence. In addition to the heavy ground fighting in and around Bint Jbeil, he said, Israeli special forces were operating "in the depths of Lebanon trying to prevent ammunition from launching."

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