Hezbollah Unleashes Fiery Barrage
Thursday, August 3, 2006
KIRYAT SHEMONA, Israel, Aug. 3 -- Hezbollah shattered two days of relative calm in northern Israel on Wednesday, spraying the region with more than 230 rockets that set buildings and forests ablaze, wounded at least 33 civilians and killed a man as he rode his bicycle in front of his home.
Hezbollah's largest barrage of the war -- 80 more rockets than struck the Jewish state during any other day of the three-week-old conflict -- came as several thousand Israeli ground troops continued their sweep through southern Lebanon, clashing with Hezbollah fighters in at least 11 towns.
Early Thursday morning, the Israeli military announced it had completed an inquiry into the airstrike Sunday on the Lebanese town of Qana that killed civilians huddled in a three-story building.
In a statement, it blamed the incident on Hezbollah for using civilian areas to facilitate attacks, including in Qana, and found the building was targeted in accordance with military guidelines. The statement also expressed regret for the incident and said the building would not have been attacked had the military known civilians were inside. Most of those who died were children.
One Israeli soldier was killed and nine were wounded Wednesday in the fighting and rocket attacks, most of them in firefights near the border village of Aita al-Shaab. No information about Hezbollah casualties was available Wednesday.
At one point Wednesday, 63 rockets rained on northern Israel within a one-hour period, Israeli officials said.
One of the longer-range rockets that Hezbollah calls the Khaibar-1 crashed down in a rocky field near Jenin in the northern West Bank, 43 miles from the Lebanon border -- the farthest rocket strike yet by Hezbollah and the conflict's first in the West Bank.
Israeli officials and commanders and Lebanese officials said Wednesday that the radical Shiite Muslim group had retained the capability to launch rockets against Israel while suffering heavy losses during a three-week Israeli onslaught.
Israeli ground forces now control about a quarter of Lebanese territory south of the Litani River, Brig. Gen. Guy Zur said at a briefing Wednesday evening. The meandering river is three to 18 miles from the Israel-Lebanon border, and the land in between has been long dominated by Hezbollah.
He listed more than a half-dozen border towns where Israel's army was still battling, including Taibe and Aita al-Shaab, the site of most of the recent Israeli casualties.
"We have troops that entered Lebanon from the mountains to the sea in a buffer zone in which we are operating to destroy all infrastructure of terror we can get," Zur said. "And I know we have hurt them badly."
Hundreds of buildings used by Hezbollah -- meeting halls, social centers, medical dispensaries and media offices -- have been struck during the Israeli offensive, according to a Lebanese source with access to military intelligence. "All this was destroyed, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, in the Bekaa" Valley in eastern Lebanon and in Hezbollah's stronghold in the south, he said.