Israeli Warplanes Hit Lebanon's Christian Areas

An Israeli soldier works the phone after returning across the border from South Lebanon. Israelis say they seek to intercept weapons from Syria.
An Israeli soldier works the phone after returning across the border from South Lebanon. Israelis say they seek to intercept weapons from Syria. (By John Moore -- Getty Images)
By Edward Cody and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 5, 2006

AL FITAR, Lebanon, Aug. 5 -- Israeli warplanes broadened their air campaign in Lebanon on Friday, blasting four highway bridges in the Christian heartland north of Beirut and killing about 30 farmworkers with a missile strike in the Bekaa Valley that Israeli officials said targeted a suspected weapons depot.

Hezbollah fighters fired 195 rockets into northern Israel, killing three civilians and wounding eight, according to the Israeli national police. In one of the deepest strikes to date, three rockets landed in a field near the coastal town of Hadera, about 50 miles from the Lebanese border.

It was the third consecutive day of intense rocket fire despite continuing efforts by the Israeli military to root out the guerrillas' firing positions in southern Lebanon.

Early Saturday, loud explosions were heard in Beirut as Israeli warplanes struck the city's southern suburbs. Machine-gun fire rattled the southern city of Tyre in what the Associated Press said was an Israeli helicopter assault on Hezbollah positions there.

One victim of the Israeli attacks on the bridges Friday was a 65-year-old retiree, Joseph Bassil, who was out for a morning jog when a salvo of missiles collapsed a 500-foot span into a ravine next to this seaside village 35 miles north of the capital, neighbors said. A second man was killed in his pickup truck here as he drove across, they said.

In northern Israel, Manal Azzam, a 27-year-old woman, was killed when a rocket smashed into her neighbor's apartment in the village of Maghar. Her two children were injured. Two other people died when a rocket hit a restaurant in the town of Majd el-Krum in northwestern Israel about 12 miles from the Lebanese border.

The new violence came a day after Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah threatened to strike Tel Aviv if Israeli forces broadened their assaults on Beirut. At the same time, he offered to end attacks if Israel did the same in Lebanon. Israel, however, is insisting that Hezbollah first be pushed away from the border and that an international force be brought in to police that zone.

On Friday, Israeli soldiers operating in the Lebanese border hills with battle tanks backed by warplanes pursued Hezbollah guerrillas entrenched in villages and tobacco fields who were firing small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and laser-guided antitank missiles.

Twenty-four days into the latest round of conflict, Israeli officers said they were in or around some 20 villages along the border stretching from Naqourah on the Mediterranean to the Kfar Kila region a few miles south of the Litani River.

But their declared objective of clearing and holding a several-mile-deep strip of territory free of Hezbollah guerrillas still seemed distant. Most of the combat took place in the same villages where fighting has been reported since hostilities broke out July 12 after Hezbollah commandos on a raid into northern Israel seized two soldiers and killed eight others.

Brig. Gen. Shucki Shacher, briefing reporters at Israel's northern command headquarters in Tzfat, said Hezbollah's "strength is declining from day to day" and the Israelis' enemy is "being pushed to the north and losing his facilities to the south."

Explaining the volleys of missiles over the last three days, Shacher said that the majority of Hezbollah's longer-range rockets had been destroyed but that only a third of the shorter-range Katyushas, which can be set up and fired in a matter of minutes, had been eliminated.

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