Hezbollah fires new weapon

Israelis examine the new rocket that hit near Afula.
Israelis examine the new rocket that hit near Afula.

 Hezbollah guerillas Friday launched their most potentially destructive rockets yet, reaching as far into Israel as they have at any point so far in the conflict, according to Israeli police.

Three missiles carrying 100 kilograms (220 pounds) each of explosives -- nearly five-times the explosives in the standard Hezbollah missile, the Katyusha rocket -- were fired toward the town of Afula, the police said. Afula is 44 miles southeast of Haifa and is just a few miles north of the West Bank.

The rockets hit empty fields, causing no casualties, police said.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to take the Islamic militia's fight against Israel "beyond Haifa" -- the northern Israeli city that is a frequent target of Hezbollah.

On the group's television network, Al-Manar, Hezbollah said it fired a new, longer-range rocket called a Khaybar-1. It was not clear what the rocket's full capabilities are.

In all, at least five Hezbollah rockets landed near Afula, police said. It was unclear if the other two were Katyushas.

During the conflict, Hezbollah has relied mostly on Russian-designed, highly mobile Katyusha rockets. They pack 22 kilograms (49 pounds) of explosives and have hit Afula in the past.

The Israeli military did not know what the other rockets were and said only that they were not Iranian-made Zilzals, which have a longer range than Katyushas.

Hezbollah and Israel continued to pummel each other Friday, the 17th day of fighting. The Lebanese-based fighters sent more than 80 rockets into Israel and the Israeli Air Force struck 110 targets in Lebanon.

Despite the intense fighting, the Israeli government said it was not planning to send thousands of troops into Lebanon to fall into a possible militant trap.

"Israel is going to do it at our own pace, at our own time, to make sure that when we go in, we go in carefully, and that we don't walk into their booby traps," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. "We want to stop the rocket fire, but we also want to make sure that Hezbollah will not be there afterward."

Since Israel left Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has built up the area around Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon, according to Eisin.

"Not only [do they have] a terrorist army, but they are sort of waiting for us to come in," she said. "They have booby-trapped the entire area. They want us to walk into those booby traps."

The Israeli Security Cabinet on Thursday authorized the call-up of three divisions of reserves. A division can include between 5,000 and 10,000 troops.

So far, only the officers of those brigades have put on their uniforms and begun to train for possible military action, military sources said.

Israel hammers Hezbollah sites

In southern Lebanon, Israeli warplanes struck rocket launchers, structures, tunnels, a gas station and a base in the Bekaa Valley where the Israel Defense Forces said Hezbollah launched long-range missiles.

Israeli airstrikes near Nabatiye killed three people and wounded nine, including four children, The Associated Press reported, citing Lebanese security officials. The raid apparently targeted an apartment belonging to a Hezbollah activist, according to the AP.

Near Naqoura, also in southern Lebanon, two civilians and a journalist were slightly wounded when their convoy was struck, according to a BBC cameraman who was traveling with the convoy. It was unclear whether Israeli or Hezbollah fire hit the convoy, which had been organized to help civilians escape the fighting.

Aid agencies say they are finding it impossible to get food and medicines safely into the region. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said Friday he is pushing for a 72-hour cease-fire so humanitarian aid can be delivered safely to Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.

The IDF said it is willing to allow safe passage for aid and evacuation convoys with 48 hours notice, Egeland said.

Also in southern Lebanon, the United Nations is removing unarmed observers from two outposts along the Israeli-Lebanese border as a protective measure, U.N. officials said.

The move comes after Israeli airstrikes struck a separate U.N. observer outpost earlier in the week, killing four peacekeepers. The Israeli government expressed regret and said it is investigating.

Fifty-one Israelis -- 18 of them civilians -- have died and 1,377 Israelis have been wounded, Israeli ambulance service officials said Friday.

Lebanese security forces said Friday that 398 Lebanese have been killed and 1,661 have been wounded since the attacks began. An unspecified number of people also are trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings, they said. The Lebanese toll was lowered from 405 deaths after the discovery of a duplication in the names of the deceased.

Hezbollah has not officially released any casualty figures, but Israeli military sources estimate about 200 fighters have been killed.

Other developments

  • President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday called for an international force to be sent to Lebanon to help ease the Mideast crisis. After talks at the White House, Bush told reporters that the two leaders "agree that a multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly" and that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will return to the region to resume her diplomatic efforts there. France, Italy and Turkey have said they will participate in the international force, and Norway and Sweden have said they are "positive" about the prospect, but have yet to commit.

  • The European Union said Friday it had finished evacuating most of its 20,000 citizens from Lebanon, according to the AP. However, a "few hundred" people remained trapped in southern Lebanon, the EU told the AP. The United States also evacuated about 500 more Americans from Beirut on a cruise ship Friday, the AP said. About 15,000 U.S. citizens have left the war-torn country, according to the AP.
  • Source: CNN