Israel Bombs Beirut in Night Attacks

Smoke drifts across Beirut after an Israeli airstrike.
Smoke drifts across Beirut after an Israeli airstrike.
An Israeli army artillery piece fires into southern Lebanon from a position on the border near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel.
An Israeli army artillery piece fires into southern Lebanon from a position on the border near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel.

 Israel took its fight against Hezbollah back into the Lebanese capital's southern suburbs early Saturday, targeting a militant stronghold in Dahiya, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The Jerusalem Post reported in its Friday editions that the IDF was threatening to strike the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut if Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israeli cities continued.

Israeli jets earlier this week targeted Hezbollah's headquarters in Beirut and the city's international airport, and the Israeli Air Force continued Sunday to conduct airstrikes against other targets in the southern suburbs of the capital.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Saturday called Israel's military a "war machine" and said attacks had turned his country into a "disaster zone."

Israel later declared a state of emergency in the northern Gallilee region, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The declaration allows the Israeli government to close public institutions such as schools, shopping malls and restaurants in northern Israel, where Hezbollah has been aiming its rockets since the crisis began, Regev said.

Hezbollah again on Saturday launched scores of rockets from Lebanon into Israel.

Israeli warplanes, meanwhile, struck Lebanese port cities, the capital Beirut and the border area near Syria on the fourth day of violence triggered by the capture of two Israeli soldiers Wednesday. Israel has vowed to free the soldiers.

Siniora called for an immediate U.N.-backed cease-fire and international help to stop Israel's attacks.

A cease-fire, he said, will allow Lebanon to "establish its sovereignty over all its lands" based on the 1949 armistice agreement.

"We are pained as well as angry yet determined and patient," Siniora said, adding that "these are hours for unity, not for division."

He said Israel was "punishing all Lebanese collectively, with their actions lacking any moral or legal legitimacy."

In response, an Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman said Lebanon had triggered the crisis by failing to disarm Hezbollah.

"This whole crisis was initiated by aggression by Lebanon into Israel," said Mark Regev.

If Siniora "had done his job correctly," followed relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and disarmed Hezbollah, "this crisis would have been averted," Regev added.

Israel is willing to implement a cease-fire in accordance with those resolutions, he said.

Civilians killed

Israel intensified its attacks from air, sea and land Saturday on targets such as Beirut and the ports of Tripoli, Amchit and Junieh, according to Lebanese media.

In his remarks Saturday, Siniora reiterated that the Lebanese government had no knowledge of Hezbollah's plans.

At least 85 Lebanese civilians have been killed, and 229 people have been wounded, according to Lebanese authorities.

Four Israeli civilians, eight soldiers and one sailor have died, Israeli authorities said, adding that 100 other Israelis have been wounded. Three sailors are missing.

Israeli warplanes hit Hezbollah's main headquarters in Beirut, which was struck Friday as well, according to Lebanese interior ministry officials. No casualties were reported from those strikes, the officials said.

The IDF confirmed the aerial attack, saying, "The state of Israel warned the Lebanese population who are present at the compound or around it, using leaflets and different means of communication, to stay clear from the site for their own safety."

Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language TV network, reported that the headquarters of Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, was targeted.

Israel also said it had attacked the Beirut headquarters of Hamas, the Palestinian movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority government.

Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike near Tyre hit a minibus carrying 20 civilians, killing at least 15 of them, Lebanese internal security sources said.

The IDF said it was making "every effort" to avoid civilian casualties, adding: "Responsibility for endangering civilian population rests on the Hezbollah terror organization, which operates and launches missiles at Israel from populated civilian areas."

More than 75 rockets were fired at Israeli towns on Saturday, the IDF said.

One barrage struck Nahariya, a northwestern town near the Lebanese border. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The town has been targeted since the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese-based guerrilla group started Wednesday.

To guard against Katyusha rockets, missile batteries were deployed in Haifa, video from the scene showed.

Leaflets over Lebanon

In the coastal city of Sidon, leaflets rained from Israeli aircraft urging Lebanese citizens to reject the Hezbollah militants.

Children and adults rushed to grab and read them, CNN's Nic Robertson in Sidon reported.

The leaflets, including a caricature of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as a serpent, read: "Is the resistance ... helping Lebanon? The resistance ... is destroying Lebanon!"

Israeli airstrikes hit near Lebanon's northern border for the first time on Saturday.

Also targeted were roads and bridges near the eastern border with Syria to prevent the smuggling of weapons and possibly the whisking away of the two captured Israeli soldiers from Lebanon into Syria, the IDF said.

Arab media reports say the strike happened in what is regarded as a no-man's-land east of Baalbek, Lebanon.

A high-ranking Lebanese government official confirmed the attack, while security forces in Syria told CNN that no Israeli airstrikes hit Syria.

'You wanted open war'

After more than 12 hours, the Israeli military Saturday located the body of one of four sailors missing since Friday after a Hezbollah missile hit an Israeli warship, the IDF confirmed to CNN.

The IDF initially said the boat was struck by an unmmaned aircraft packed with explsoives. But Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said Saturday that it was a Chinese-made C-802 missile.

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.

A similar missile sank an Egyptian boat, but its crew was rescued by a nearby commercial ship, the IDF said.

On Hezbollah-run Al Manar television, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli 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.

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.

Other developments:

  • Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the Middle East peace process "dead." Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, he said the peace process failed "because certain powers have given Israel every capacity to do whatever it wishes."

  • On Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia, U.S. President Bush called on Syria to urge Hezbollah to lay down its arms and placed the blame for the violence on Hezbollah and its backers in Damascus.

  • The U.S. State Department on Saturday is fine-tuning plans to evacuate Americans in Lebanon, estimated to number around 25,000, to nearby Cyprus.

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

    Source: CNN