Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Israel steps up Lebanon attacks

REPRISALS EXPANDED Beirut airport was bombed and ports were blockaded as Israel looked to force Hezbollah to release two Israeli soldier hostages

AGENCIES , BEIRUT

Israel intensified its attacks against Lebanon yesterday, blasting Beirut's airport and two army bases in the heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years. Four dozen civilians died in the violence following Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers.

After warplanes punched holes in the airport's runways just south of Beirut, Israel's army chief Brigadier General Dan Halutz warned that "nothing is safe" in Lebanon. He said the Lebanese capital itself -- particularly offices and residences of Hezbollah officials in the southern suburbs -- would be a target.

Israeli warplanes blasted runways at the two main army air bases in eastern and northern Lebanon near Syria's border yesterday, police said, attacks that could draw the Lebanese army into Israel's war with Hezbollah.

Israeli jets dropped two bombs on the runway at the Rayak air base in the eastern Bekaa Valley, damaging it, police said. There were no reports of casualties or damage to aircraft.

A senior Israeli officer said that a air and sea blockade would be maintained throughout what he said would be a prolonged offensive against Hezbollah.

"We should not consider this a matter of days," said Brigadier-General Amir Eshel, deputy chief of air force staff. "This blockade will last as long as the conflict goes on."

Israeli naval vessels enforcing the siege turned away three ships carrying fuel to Beirut, a shipping source said.

Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israeli towns and said it was using a new missile that appeared to be more advanced than previous models.

One Israeli was killed and at least 12 were injured.

The militant group also said it would rocket the key Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel hit Beirut, a strike that would be the deepest ever into Israel by the guerrillas -- some 30km.

The shockwaves from the fighting began to be felt as tensions sharpened, with both sides playing a high stakes game after Hezbollah snatched two Israeli soldiers: Israel seeking to end once and for all Hezbollah's presence on the border while the guerrillas insisting to trade the captured soldiers with Arab prisoners.

Trapped between them was Lebanon, which Israel said it held responsible for Hezbollah's snatching of the soldiers. The Lebanese government insisted it had no prior knowledge of the move and did not condone it.

Two days of Israeli bombings killed 47 Lebanese and wounded 103, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife said. Besides the Israeli civilian, eight Israeli soldiers have also been killed.

The Israeli warnings of more to come caused panic in Beirut, with traffic in the streets thin as people stuck their homes and stayed away from their jobs. Others packed supermarkets to stock up on goods and long lines formed on gas stations, with many quickly running out of gas.

US President George W. Bush pledged yesterday to work with Israel, criticizing Hezbollah for thwarting efforts for peace in the Middle East.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that Israel's Lebanon offensive "is raising our fears of a new regional war" and urged world powers to intervene "to stop this serious deterioration."

also see story:

Hezbollah seizure shakes Lebanon's political landscape

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