By Edward Cody and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
BEIRUT, Aug. 7 -- Israeli jets in a relentless hunt for Hezbollah rockets raided sites across Lebanon on Monday, cutting roads and killing about 30 civilians. Despite the attacks, Hezbollah fighters fired 135 more of the weapons into northern Israel. Ten Israelis were reported injured.
In Beirut, foreign ministers from Arab countries called at a meeting for an immediate cease-fire. An emotional Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused Israel of state terrorism; officials in Israel signaled an intention to expand their offensive, which they say is necessary to protect their citizens from rocket attacks.
Ground fighting continued in multiple locations in hilly southern Lebanon. Three Israeli soldiers were killed and seven wounded in combat in the heavily damaged town of Bint Jbeil, the Israeli military said.
As negotiations toward a cease-fire continued at United Nations headquarters in New York, the war concluded its 27th day with no end in sight.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a parliamentary committee in broadcast remarks that the country is preparing to expand military operations unless the United Nations finds a solution quickly. "I gave an order that, if within the coming days the diplomatic process does not reach a conclusion, Israeli forces will carry out the operations necessary to take control of Katyusha rocket launching sites in every location."
During a meeting with reservists near the Lebanese border, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave a similar forecast, according to his office. "We are not stopping," he was quoted as saying, adding that there "will be no military restrictions" on stopping rocket launches.
The foreign ministers from member states of the Arab League gathered in Beirut despite the hostilities for a day-long show of solidarity. They decided to send representatives to the United Nations to press the case for an immediate cease-fire and other changes in a proposed Security Council resolution. Their deliberations were overshadowed, however, by knowledge that a cease-fire decision resided not with Arab governments, but with Israel, Hezbollah and the big powers on the Security Council.
Reflecting the frustration, Siniora told the ministers that Lebanon has been "stunned" by Israel's attacks, which he said have set Lebanon back decades just as it seemed on the verge of recovery from previous wars. Tears welling in his eyes, he lamented the long list of Lebanese civilians killed in the conflict. He included 40 "martyrs" who he said perished Monday in a "massacre" in the village of Hula, hit by Israeli airstrikes. Later he said that his information had been wrong and that one civilian died at Hula.
"Thank God they were not killed," Siniora said in response to a reporter's question about his emotional speech. "What do you expect when my countrymen are being killed? Children, just because they are Lebanese, they are being killed. How do you expect me to behave?
"Put yourself in my shoes," he went on. "I am just an ordinary man, and I feel with every woman, every child and every man. This is state terrorism, and this is unacceptable. To see what crimes Israel is committing is unacceptable, and we should not tolerate it anymore."
As Siniora's speech was broadcast live via satellite to Israel, a hush fell over Israeli soldiers watching on ceiling-mounted televisions in the lobby of an army-run hotel in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona. As his voice began to waver, many groaned or yelled at the screen. "You should cry to Nasrallah," one shouted, referring to the Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrallah.
The commander of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said Israeli attacks had collapsed a building in Hula, burying 18 people under the rubble. Two other places in the village where large numbers of civilians had taken refuge also were hit, he said, and rescuers were unable to reach them immediately because of continued attacks. After the bombing ceased, other officials said, rescue workers discovered that one villager was dead but that about 50 had survived unscathed in a shelter under the rubble.
At the town of Qasmiyeh, seven people were reported killed by airstrikes apparently aimed at interdicting traffic down the coastal road leading to the border area.
Another six or seven people, including a mother and her daughter, were killed in a half-dozen other villages that came under attack from Israeli bombs, missiles and heavy artillery, according to reports from local officials and Lebanese media.
Explosions were heard echoing across Baalbek, the main city in the Bekaa Valley and a longtime Hezbollah stronghold. One person was killed in a bombing run on roads in the Bekaa Valley, a frequent transit route for Hezbollah munitions and other supplies coming from Syria.
Another Israeli airstrike blasted the area near Masnaa, the main crossing from Syria into Lebanon and a frequent target of warplanes since hostilities began July 12.
Israeli jets hit the southern suburbs of Beirut, where Hezbollah has its headquarters, and for the first time extended their strikes into the suburb of Al Shiyah, where many Christians live. Ten people were killed in that attack, according to Beirut television stations quoting police on the scene.
Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, warned last week that if Israel struck Beirut, he would order missile strikes against Tel Aviv. It was unclear whether Monday evening's attack would fulfill the conditions of his threat, because it did not hit the city center. Many Lebanese consider Al Shiyah to be part of the capital itself, unlike the southern suburbs.
An Israeli F-16 fighter jet shot down a Hezbollah unmanned drone over the Mediterranean Sea about seven miles west of the Israeli coastal city of Haifa, according to a military official. An Israeli naval vessel plucked the drone from the water, and it was being examined Monday night, officials said.
Airstrikes blasted apart a makeshift bridge north of the southern city of Tyre, severing the main route south for relief supplies, according to witnesses. Relief agencies complained that the delivery of food, medicine and other supplies to displaced families was interrupted.
The bombings in Hula came after what Hezbollah described as sharp clashes between its fighters and Israeli troops maneuvering in the area's rocky hillsides with heavy battle tanks. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, Hezbollah said. The Israeli military said five were wounded and none killed.
Fighting also broke out near Bint Jbeil to the southwest, according to Hezbollah and the Israeli military, which acknowledged that two Israeli soldiers were killed by an antitank missile fired at their tank and one in a firefight. Seven soldiers were wounded in the two incidents, the military said.
Fifteen Hezbollah fighters were killed, an Israeli spokesman said.
In all, Israel has reported killing 400 Hezbollah fighters, while the radical Shiite Muslim movement has acknowledged losing about 55. A Lebanese source with access to military intelligence estimated Hezbollah losses at more than 200, including fighters and others associated with its war effort such as messengers and truck drivers.
Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, who commands Israeli forces inside southern Lebanon, said that "for three weeks we have been calling on the Lebanese population to evacuate the towns and villages that we are operating in. We know that the majority of the population already fled. If you hear that there are several people in destroyed houses or something like this, then they must be supporting Hezbollah."
In what could presage larger-scale ground operations, the Israeli military changed its warnings, now telling civilians in southern Lebanon to remain inside their houses instead of fleeing the area.
The Israeli military warned vehicles against traveling on roads south of the Litani River after 10 p.m., but it said that it would coordinate movement of relief convoys.
The Israeli military has so far been unable to establish the band of Hezbollah-free territory along the border that it envisioned. Many of the ground clashes and airstrikes have been taking place in the same villages and hills for three weeks.
Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, who until last month was director of Israeli military intelligence analysis, told reporters in Jerusalem that the Israeli military does not know how many more rockets and launchers Hezbollah retains after nearly four weeks of Israeli strikes. "They still have missiles and rockets, and they're going to use them," he said.
Kuperwasser declined to estimate how much longer it would take the military to severely limit Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets into Israel. He said the fighters have proved more organized than anticipated.
Moore reported from Jerusalem. Correspondents Nora Boustany in Beirut and Jonathan Finer in Ein Zeitin, Israel, contributed to this report.