Israel battles Muslim militants on two fronts


  • World
  • Thursday, 13 Jul 2006

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli forces battled Muslim militants on two fronts on Thursday, destroying the office of the Palestinian foreign minister in Gaza and exchanging blows with Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas to the north. 

Israel vowed on Wednesday a severe response to Hizbollah attacks in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and eight killed by the Syrian-backed group. 

Israeli soldiers prepare for a mission in Lebanon near the Israeli-Lebanese border July 12, 2006. (REUTERS/Yonathan Weitzman)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet said that Israel held the Lebanese government responsible for the attacks and for the safe return of the seized soldiers, but it offered no details about what type of action would be taken. 

Hizbollah fired shells at a military headquarter near the border with Lebanon while Israeli aircraft, artillery and gunboats hit targets in Lebanon, including bridges south of Beirut, early on Thursday, killing a Lebanese policeman and wounding five civilians, Lebanese security sources said. 

A house was hit in Sreefa village in south Lebanon, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties, residents said. 

Dozens of Israeli air strikes hit at least 12 bridges and suspected Hizbollah posts on Wednesday, killing two Lebanese civilians and a Hizbollah fighter as well as disrupting fixed-line communications between Beirut and south Lebanon. 

Bombardment by land and sea added devastation to south Lebanon's road network. 

The Israeli retaliation is set to increase domestic pressure on Hizbollah, which has refused to disarm in line with a 2004 U.N. resolution, and boost international pressure on the Lebanese government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, to take action. 

Hizbollah's bold attack drew Olmert into a second crisis over captured soldiers. Israel is engaged in a military offensive in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants captured a soldier on June 25. 

GAZA STRIKES 

An Israeli air strike destroyed the office of Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar on Thursday in an attack that signalled Israel would pursue its Gaza offensive while fighting the second front in Lebanon. 

No one was hurt in the night-time raid on the Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City, Palestinian security officials said. 

A separate air strike, near Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, killed an Islamic Jihad militant and wounded another gunman, the officials said. 

Israel killed at least 24 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, including nine members of one family in an air strike that destroyed a house where the army said senior Hamas commanders were meeting. 

Zahar is a leader of Hamas, an Islamist militant group that came to power in the Palestinian territories after a January election. 

Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the two soldiers had been seized to force Israel to release prisoners, but Israel says the attack was an act of war and that it would not swap prisoners for the three snatched soldiers. 

"You don't negotiate with terror organisations," Gideon Meir, senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, told Reuters. 

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his government had not known of the Hizbollah attack and did not endorse it or accept responsibility. 

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told his commanders to prepare civil defence plans because of fears Hizbollah would fire long-range rockets at Israeli cities and industrial installations in the heart of the country. 

Hizbollah has said it has more than 13,000 rockets capable of hitting Israeli towns and installations deep into northern Israel. 

The White House condemned the Hizbollah attack and blamed Syria and Iran, which both back the Shi'ite Muslim group. 

Syria said Israeli actions were to blame for guerrilla attacks. 

Israeli troops have not struck deep into Lebanon since they left six years ago after an 18-year struggle with Hizbollah. 

In 2004, Hizbollah swapped a kidnapped Israeli businessman and the bodies of three soldiers for more than 420 Arab prisoners after German mediation. 

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem bureau) 

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