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Hizbollah rockets hit Haifa, Israel strikes Lebanon

16 Jul 2006 22:53:10 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

HAIFA, Israel, July 16 (Reuters) - Hizbollah killed eight people in the Israeli city of Haifa on Sunday in its deadliest rocket attack on the Jewish state, and Israeli planes killed 42 people in Lebanon in a fifth day of strikes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has demanded the Beirut government disarm Hizbollah, said the guerrilla group's attack would have far-reaching consequences for Lebanon. Hizbollah threatened more attacks.

Leaders of the world's major powers meeting in Russia urged restraint but said Israel had a right to self-defence, putting the onus on Hizbollah to stop the violence by first releasing two Israeli soldiers it captured on Wednesday.

"Our message to Israel is defend yourself but be mindful of the consequences, so we are urging restraint," U.S. President George W. Bush said at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the attack on Haifa, Israel's third-biggest city, was retaliation for the Jewish state's killing of civilians and promised more "surprises". "We are just at the beginning," he said.

The Israeli army said rocket attacks by Hizbollah later in the day struck deeper into Israel than ever before, hitting a town 50 km (33 miles) south of the border.

A total of 24 Israelis have been killed in the fighting since Wednesday, including 12 civilians killed in rocket attacks. Hundreds have been wounded.

Israel's military campaign in Lebanon, launched after Hizbollah captured the two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others, has killed 145 people, all but four of them civilians.

In Lebanon's southern city of Tyre, 16 people were killed, many of them in an attack on a building used by rescue workers.

A separate Israeli strike killed eight people including five with dual Canadian and Lebanese citizenship, a Lebanese official said. Canada said seven Canadians died.

Sources at Beirut airport, which has been closed since Thursday, said Israeli aircraft fired rockets at fuel tanks. They also struck again at the main road between Beirut and Damascus in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, witnesses said.

Further air strikes targeted the home of a Hizbollah official in the ancient city of Baalbek, nearby bridges and the port of Tripoli in the north, killing at least one person and wounding five. The official was not at home.

BOMBING CAMPAIGN

Israel's bombing campaign, its most destructive assault on Lebanon since a 1982 invasion to expel Palestinian guerrillas, has drawn only a mild plea for restraint from the United States which blames Hizbollah and its allies, Syria and Iran.

Lebanon said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had relayed Israeli conditions for a ceasefire. A government statement quoted Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as saying Israel had demanded the return of the two soldiers and a Hizbollah pullback to behind the Litani river, 20 km (12 miles) north of Israel.

A U.N. team sent to Lebanon said it supported Lebanon's call for a ceasefire but also urged the release of the soldiers.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, speaking after talks with Siniora, appealed for "those who have the possibility of influence" to press for an end to the violence and for the release of the two Israelis.

"I ask them to do it, to do it rapidly. Every day counts," said Solana. Lebanese political sources said Solana had not brought any specific proposal to resolve the crisis.

Earlier on Sunday, bombs thudded into Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs in raids which set fire to Hizbollah's al-Manar television complex and nearby buildings, witnesses said. The station's signal disappeared briefly several times.

Hizbollah said it had fired "Raad (Thunder) 2 and Raad 3" rockets at Haifa. A senior political source said Israel's army chief, Dan Halutz, had told a cabinet meeting that "some of the missiles were probably produced by Syria".

Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal threatened a "harsh and direct" response to any Israeli attack on Syria.

Israel has said Lebanon must implement a U.N. resolution demanding the disarming of Hizbollah, a Shi'ite group formed in 1982 to fight an Israeli occupation that lasted 22 years.

But the Beirut government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, lacks the unity and firepower to tackle Hizbollah.

The group has said it wants to swap the two captured Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Israel's campaign in Lebanon followed the launch of its offensive in the Gaza Strip on June 28 to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Israel widened that assault on Sunday, killing a Palestinian civilian in southern Gaza and five militants in the north. (Additional reporting by Beirut and Jerusalem bureaus, David Clarke, Steve Holland and Sophie Louet in St Petersburg)

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