Israel pounds Lebanon, Hizbollah rockets hit Haifa


  • World
  • Tuesday, 18 Jul 2006

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes battered Lebanon on Tuesday, killing 29 people, and more Hizbollah rockets hit the Israeli city of Haifa, with no sign that diplomacy would halt the week-old conflict any time soon. 

The Israeli army said its offensive to crush Hizbollah could take a few more weeks. 

A Lebanese man releases a bird near his demolished home in a Beirut suburb July 18, 2006. Israeli warplanes battered Lebanon on Tuesday, killing 29 people, and more Hizbollah rockets hit the Israeli city of Haifa, with no sign that diplomacy would halt the week-old conflict any time soon. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Nine family members, including children, were killed and four wounded in an air strike on their house in the village of Aitaroun. Five people were killed in other strikes in the south and two in air raids on the Bekaa Valley. 

A truck carrying medical supplies donated by the United Arab Emirates was hit and its driver killed on the Beirut-Damascus highway, the Health Ministry said. 

An air strike on a Lebanese army barracks east of Beirut killed 11 soldiers, including four officers, and wounded 30. 

Hizbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group backed by Syria and Iran, said one of its fighters had been killed, but gave no details. 

Up to six rockets slammed into Haifa, Israel's third largest city and now a favoured target for Hizbollah. No casualties were reported. A rocket salvo killed eight people in Haifa on Sunday. 

Israel's army refused to rule out a ground invasion, only six years after it ended a 22-year occupation of south Lebanon. 

"At this stage we do not think we have to activate massive ground forces into Lebanon but if we have to do this, we will," Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel's deputy army chief, told Israel Radio. 

He said the offensive, launched after Hizbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid on July 12, would require weeks to complete its goals. 

Israel's campaign has killed 233 people, all but 26 of them civilians, and inflicted the heaviest damage on Lebanon since the 1982 Israeli invasion to expel Palestinian guerrillas. 

Hizbollah has responded by attacking an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut, killing four sailors, and firing hundreds of rockets across the border, killing 12 Israelis. 

Another senior Israeli officer said Hizbollah rocket attacks had begun to ease off, but that the army needed perhaps three to four weeks to destroy the group's military stockpiles. 

"We have hit a large part of their weapons arsenal, their anti-aircraft missiles and their rockets," Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command, told Channel 1 Television. 

"PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE" 

A Hizbollah spokesman dismissed the claim, describing it as part of Israel's psychological warfare against the group. 

Before Tuesday, 120 rockets a day had hit northern Israel since the crisis began a week ago. Hizbollah was thought to have some 13,000 rockets at the outset. 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a bigger, more robust international force to stabilise southern Lebanon and buy time for the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbollah guerrillas. 

Shrugging off U.S. and Israeli reluctance, Annan said he expected European troops to join the proposed force in a bid to end the fighting and prevent a wider Middle East conflagration. 

Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have urged the U.N. Security Council to deploy a security force in Lebanon but Israel says it is too early to discuss it and Washington has questioned how it could stop Hizbollah from attacking Israel. 

"It is urgent that the international community acts to make a difference on the ground," Annan said in Brussels, suggesting a force that would operate differently from toothless U.N. peacekeepers who have patrolled south Lebanon since 1978. 

A poll in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily showed a vast majority of Israelis backed the Lebanon offensive. Many favoured assassinating Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. 

Thousands more foreigners, trapped by the bombing of Beirut airport, packed bags to flee the fighting overland or wait for their countries to organise evacuation by sea or air. 

The Pentagon has sent the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including a helicopter carrier and dock landing ship to help extract Americans from Lebanon. Marine helicopters have evacuated 68 in the past two days, with more flights on Tuesday. 

Other European nations mustered boats and planes to reach their nationals stranded by the bombing of Beirut airport. About 100,000 Lebanese have fled their homes to escape the violence. 

Israel is also pursuing an offensive in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants captured another soldier on June 25. 

Lebanon has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire, but world powers said any solution to the crisis must include the release of the two soldiers. Israel also wants Hizbollah to disarm in line with council resolutions. 

The Beirut government is too weak and divided to force Hizbollah to yield to such demands. 

The Shi'ite group wants to swap the soldiers for Lebanese and Arabs in Israeli jails. Israel has rejected any such deal. 

(Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Jerusalem bureau, Madeline Chambers in London and Paul Taylor in Brussels) 

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