Hizbollah rockets Haifa in Israel, eight killed


  • World
  • Sunday, 16 Jul 2006

By Alaa Shahine

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hizbollah fired rockets at the Israeli city of Haifa on Sunday, killing eight people, as Israel pursued a devastating assault in Lebanon aimed at crippling the Shi'ite Muslim group. 

Israeli medics said more than a dozen people had also been wounded in Haifa, Israel's third largest city. It was hit by at least five rockets, including one that struck a train station. 

A fuel tank is set on fire in Jiyeh after being attacked by Israeli missiles in south Beirut July 16, 2006. Hizbollah fired rockets at the Israeli city of Haifa on Sunday, killing eight people, as Israel pursued a devastating assault in Lebanon aimed at crippling the Shi'ite Muslim group. (REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

Hizbollah claimed responsibility for the rocket salvo, which it said was retaliation for Israel's killing of civilians and destruction of Lebanese infrastructure. 

Israeli air raids shook Beirut overnight on the fifth day of a bombardment that has prompted no U.N. Security Council action and only a mild plea for restraint from Israel's U.S. ally. 

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking at a G8 summit in Russia, characterised Israel's campaign as self-defence and did not back Lebanon's pleas for an immediate ceasefire. 

"Our message to Israel is defend yourself but be mindful of the consequences, so we are urging restraint," said Bush, who has blamed Hizbollah for the conflict in Lebanon. 

Bombs crashed into Beirut's Shi'ite Muslim southern suburbs in overnight raids which set fire to Hizbollah's al-Manar television complex and nearby buildings, witnesses said. The station's signal twice disappeared briefly before returning. 

French President Jacques Chirac called for a ceasefire and "a show of moderation" in the Middle East. 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the way to calm the violence was to tackle the reasons behind it, blaming Hizbollah and its allies Syria and Iran. 

The United States earlier blocked any move by the U.N. Security Council to demand a ceasefire, saying the focus for diplomacy should be on the summit in St Petersburg. 

Israel's onslaught, which has killed more than 100 people, all but four of them civilians, is meant to cripple Hizbollah and force Lebanon to dislodge the Syrian- and Iranian-backed group from its southern border strongholds. 

Before Sunday's attack on Haifa, Hizbollah had rained about 700 rockets on a score of towns in northern Israel, killing four Israelis, since its cross-border raid on Wednesday in which it captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight. 

NIGHT EXPLOSIONS 

Israel's bombing campaign, which has laid waste to Lebanon's vital installations, is its most destructive assault since a 1982 invasion to expel Palestinian guerrillas. 

Israel has said Lebanon must implement a U.N. resolution demanding the disarming of Hizbollah, a Shi'ite group formed in 1982 to fight an Israeli occupation that lasted 22 years. 

But the Beirut government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, lacks the unity and firepower to tackle Hizbollah, the only Lebanese faction to keep its guns after the 1975-90 civil war. 

Hizbollah has said it wants to swap the two captured Israeli soldiers with Lebanese and Arab prisoners in Israel's jails. 

The campaign in Lebanon coincided with an offensive Israel launched in the Gaza Strip on June 28 to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire. 

Israel widened the assault on Sunday, killing a Palestinian civilian in southern Gaza and three militants in the north. 

The operation, aimed at recovering a captured soldier and stopping armed groups from firing makeshift rockets, has piled pressure on the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which demands a prisoner swap for the Israeli corporal. 

Israeli armour, backed by helicopters firing machineguns, moved in darkness into farmland near Beit Hanoun, as militants blew up hidden bombs and fired anti-tank grenades. 

Three gunmen were killed in an Israeli air strike. At least 10 Palestinians were wounded in that and other air attacks. 

In southern Gaza, parts of which Israeli forces raided after the abduction, the army killed a Palestinian woman in her home, medics said. Palestinian witnesses said an Israeli tank shell landed near her house, sending shrapnel flying inside. 

Israeli troops had pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip a week earlier after a major raid into the territory, which Israel abandoned in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. 

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Irwin Arieff in New York, David Clarke and Steve Holland in St Petersburg) 

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