Israel Pounds Southern Beirut; Hezbollah Leader Calls For War - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

7/15/06-BEIRUT, Lebanon

Israel Pounds Southern Beirut; Hezbollah Leader Calls For War

Israeli gunners cover their ears as an artillery piece fires into southern Lebanon from a position on the border near Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel , Saturday, July 15, 2006. Israeli gunners cover their ears as an artillery piece fires into southern Lebanon from a position on the border near Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel , Saturday, July 15, 2006.
Israeli artillery units fire shells toward Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon from a staging area near the border. The Lebanese government has called for a cease-fire, but says it has no control over Hezbollah. Israeli artillery units fire shells toward Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon from a staging area near the border. The Lebanese government has called for a cease-fire, but says it has no control over Hezbollah.
Artillery shells stand organized as an Israeli gunner rests in a mobile artillery vehicle at a staging area near Kyriat Shmona on Israel's border with Lebanon. Artillery shells stand organized as an Israeli gunner rests in a mobile artillery vehicle at a staging area near Kyriat Shmona on Israel's border with Lebanon.
Artillery shells stand organized as an Israeli gunner rests in a mobile artillery vehicle at a staging area near Kyriat Shmona on Israel's border with Lebanon. Artillery shells stand organized as an Israeli gunner rests in a mobile artillery vehicle at a staging area near Kyriat Shmona on Israel's border with Lebanon.
A large crater disrupts foot and vehicle traffic in a Beirut residential neighborhood. Overnight airstrikes by Israel Defense Forces killed three and wounded 55, police said. A large crater disrupts foot and vehicle traffic in a Beirut residential neighborhood. Overnight airstrikes by Israel Defense Forces killed three and wounded 55, police said.
An Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon hit a minibus Saturday carrying 20 civilians, killing at least 15 of them, Lebanese internal security sources said.

The van was heading along the coastal road from Shamaa to Bayada when its passengers stopped at a U.N. base asking for shelter and were turned away, a security official said.

The van was traveling toward Bayada when it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, the official said.

The strike was one of a volley of Israeli attacks as the nation extended its military campaign in Lebanon, ignited by the capture of two soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas on Wednesday.

At least 80 Lebanese civilians and two Lebanese Army soldiers have been killed and 209 have been wounded since Wednesday, according to Lebanese security forces.

There are fears the conflict will spread in the Middle East.

Hezbollah militants kept up their attacks from southern Lebanon on Saturday, firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Overnight, Hezbollah shelled northern Israel with about 10 to 15 Katyusha rockets, most of them landing in the border town of Nahariya, according to the IDF. No serious injuries were reported, according to Israeli ambulance services.

Hezbollah also fired rockets near the northern Israeli city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, but no casualties were reported, according to Israeli ambulance services Saturday.

Residents were called into bomb shelters as a precaution.

Four Israeli civilians and nine Israeli military personnel have been killed, and 100 others have been wounded, since the attacks began, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel pounded southern Beirut Saturday with at least four airstrikes, including a hit on Hezbollah's headquarters, which was also hit Friday, according to Lebanese interior ministry officials. No casualties were reported from those strikes, the officials said.

A CNN crew heard the blasts in rapid succession, followed by more explosions in 15-minute intervals.

Israeli bombs also struck bridges in the northern region of Nahrel Bared, near Tripoli; the northeastern town of Hermel near the Syrian border; Debiyeh, southeast of Beirut; and Sarasand, a coastal road leading to Tyre in the south, according to Lebanon internal security forces.

The strike on Hermel marked the farthest north the Israeli military has struck in Lebanon.

Airstrikes also targeted at least five gas stations in the south and a bridge linking Hasbiyah and Bekaa, the Lebanese Army said.

'You wanted open war'

After more than 12 hours, the Israeli military Saturday located the body of one of the four sailors missing after a Hezbollah missile attack on an Israeli warship, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed to CNN.

The IDF emphasized the ship was not hit by a drone packed with explosives, as reported by Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

That would have been seen as a major advance in the weaponry used by the Hezbollah militant group.

The warship was damaged but operating "on some level" in spite of a fire that had been extinguished; damage to the ship's steering system was also fixed, an IDF spokeswoman said.

The missile was launched off the Lebanese coast around 7:30 p.m. Friday (12:30 p.m. ET) when the ship was returning to Israel, she said.

A civilian ship was hit in a second missile attack, but no casualties were reported, the spokeswoman added.

Hezbollah-run Al Manar television, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for the attack on the warship and called it "just the beginning." He also declared "open war" with Israel.

"You wanted an open war," Nasrallah said on Friday. "Let it be, then, an open war. Your government wanted to change the rules of the game, so let the rules of the game change, then. ...

"You have chosen an all-out war with a nation that takes pride in its history, civilization and culture, who also has the capability, the experience, the intellect, the wealth, the patience and the courage. The coming days will prove that to you." It was not clear if the speech was taped or live.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. The group holds 23 of the 128 seats in Lebanon's parliament.

On Saturday U.S. President Bush called on Syria to exert its influence over Hezbollah so its members will "lay down their arms."

Bush placed the blame for the escalation in violence on Hezbollah and its backers in Damascus.

"The best way to stop violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place," Bush said during a news conference ahead of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. "And that is because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon and into Israel because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers."

Bush's comments came a day after Lebanon's prime minister unsuccessfully appealed to him to push Israel to halt its attacks. The United Nations Security Council also took no action on Lebanese requests.

While Syrian officials outside the country, including its ambassadors, maintain that Damascus is trying to rein in the militant group and doesn't want to get involved in the conflict, Syria still publicly supports Hezbollah.

Analysts say the threat of a widened conflict is a real one, given the harsh rhetoric and longstanding strife in the region.

In addition to being at the top of the agenda for the G8 summit, the Middle East will also be at the center of a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers Saturday in Cairo.

In other developments:

  • A rocket slammed into the Palestinian Economy Ministry in Gaza City early Saturday, Palestinian security sources said, as Israel continued military operations following the kidnapping of a soldier by Palestinian militants last month. 

  • The U.S. State Department on Saturday advised Americans in Lebanon about steps being taken to evacuate them should conditions merit it.

  • The Mideast violence has been blamed for surging oil prices, and Wall Street has been pummeled in the process.

    Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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