Israel attacks Beirut airport again

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 14-Jul-06 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Fire rises from Beirut international airport after being attacked by Israeli aircraft July 14, 2006.
BEIRUT Israel struck Beirut airport again on Friday and bombed Lebanese roads, power supplies and communication networks in a widening campaign after Hezbollah guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight.

Hizbollah, which wants to trade its captives for prisoners held in Israel, has showered rockets across the frontier in its fiercest bombardment since 1996 when Israel launched a 17-day blitz against southern Lebanon and Hizbollah.

Israeli aircraft fired two rockets into a runway at Beirut's international airport, witnesses and security sources said.

The airport has been shut since Israel, which ended its 20-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, bombed its runways on Thursday. Four planes of Lebanon's Middle East Airlines had taken off empty for Amman shortly before the raid.

Israeli warplanes blasted the main Beirut-Damascus highway overnight, tightening an air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon, and bombed targets in Beirut's teeming Shiite Muslim suburbs, killing three people and wounding 40, security sources said.

Their deaths brought to 60 the number of people, almost all civilians, killed in Lebanon since Israel's campaign began.

The Israeli military said Hezbollah had fired more than 130 missiles into Israel in 48 hours, killing two civilians and wounding over 100.

Black smoke billowed from a burning fuel depot at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut and from fuel tanks bombed at the capital's airport on Thursday evening. Israeli ships shelled the coastal road near Jiyyeh, witnesses said. Air raids struck several mobile telephone relay stations in eastern Lebanon.

Israeli jets also struck a Palestinian guerrilla base in eastern Lebanon. The pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said there were no casualties.

Israel holds Lebanon responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, a Syrian- and Iranian-backed Islamist group which has members in parliament and in the mainly anti-Syrian cabinet.

The fragile Beirut government, too divided to disarm the Shiite faction that effectively controls south Lebanon, has urged the U.N. Security Council to call on Israel to halt its onslaught when the top world body meets later on Friday.

But the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and his security chiefs opted on Thursday evening to ramp up the bombardment. "The decision was made to intensify Israel's operations in Lebanon," Israeli Army Radio quoted political sources as saying.

That followed two unprecedented missile strikes on the port of Haifa, blamed by Israel on Hezbollah, which denied it had fired on the city, 30 km from the Lebanese border.

No one was hurt in the attack.

The violence in Lebanon coincided with an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip that was launched last month to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

The army said Friday that it had pulled out of the central Gaza Strip, which it entered as part of the offensive. It said its forces had targeted an office of the ruling Hamas militant group in the northern Gaza Strip and a bridge overnight.

Troops fired a tank shell at a vehicle, killing one Palestinian and wounding another, Palestinian medics said.

Fearing a prolonged Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation, Lebanese queued for petrol and hoarded food and drink. Power rationing began and many shops and offices stayed shut.

The crisis has helped drive world oil prices to record highs and has shaken financial markets in Israel and Lebanon.

Israeli planes dropped leaflets in Beirut suburbs and some southern cities urging residents to stay away from Hezbollah offices, fuelling speculation that the group's charismatic leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, could be targeted.

"We will settle the account with him fully somewhere, sometime," the Israeli interior minister, Ronnie Bar-On, said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said Israel has the right to defend itself, but should not weaken the Lebanese government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to exercise restraint and demanded that Syria rein in Hizbollah.

The Syrian ambassador to the United States said Washington should restrain Israel and push for renewed peace talks.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said any Israeli attack on Syria would draw a fierce response from the Islamic world.

The European Union and Russia have criticised Israel's strikes in Lebanon as disproportionate.