Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Bombs Beirut Airport, Southern Suburbs

Israel Bombs Beirut Airport
Originally uploaded by panafnewswire.
Israel pursues strikes on Lebanon

Israel is continuing to subject Lebanon to strikes by land, sea and air, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants.

More than 50 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the attacks.

Israeli jets have struck southern Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, and the main Beirut-Damascus road.

Hezbollah has hit Israeli towns with rocket attacks and Israeli sources said the group had fired on the northern port city of Haifa.

Israeli police said two rockets had fallen on a Christian area of Haifa called Stella Maris.

Hezbollah denied firing any rockets at Haifa - Israel's third largest city. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Hezbollah had said it would attack Haifa if Israeli planes bombed Beirut.

It has fired dozens of rockets into Israel in the past two days, killing at least two Israelis and injuring dozens.

Haifa is more than 30km (18 miles) from the Lebanese border and was thought to be out of Hezbollah's range.

The Israeli ambassador in Washington, Danny Ayalon, described the Haifa incident as a "major escalation" of the crisis.

He said the international community should make it clear to Iran and Syria - which Israel says form an "axis of terror" with Hezbollah and Palestinian militants Hamas - that they were "playing with fire".

Arterial route

According to Syrian television, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telephoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday night to say there would be a "fierce response" to any Israeli attack on Syria.

"If the Zionist regime commits another stupid move and attacks Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world," Mr Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
March 1978: Israel invades to stop Palestinian attacks
1982: Full-scale invasion; Israel occupies Beirut; pro-Israel militias massacre Palestinian refugees
May 1983: Israel pulls back, but keeps "security zone"
February 1992: Israeli air strike kills Hezbollah leader
1996: Israel launches "Grapes of Wrath" raids on Hezbollah; 100 civilians die under Israeli shelling of UN base at Qana
May 2000: Israel withdraws troops from Lebanon
January 2004: Prisoners-bodies swap agreed between Hezbollah and Israel

Lebanon's road to Damascus - the main arterial route - has been closed by Israeli jet attacks, Lebanese officials said.

The night attack was in the mountains of central Lebanon but it was unclear what damage had been done.

On Thursday, Israeli forces twice struck the airport in Beirut.

Meanwhile the UN Security Council has arranged an emergency meeting for Friday at Lebanon's request.

International calls for calm are growing, with Russia, France and the EU saying Israel's response to the capture of two soldiers was disproportionate.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to exercise restraint but also demanded that Syria put pressure on Hezbollah to stop attacks on Israel.

Lebanese ministers have called for a ceasefire with Israel, saying that all means should be used to end "open aggression" against their country.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was responding to "an unprovoked act of aggression" by Lebanon.

The offensive follows a day of heavy fighting on Wednesday in which the Israelis suffered their worst losses on the border for several years.

Eight soldiers were killed and two were injured, in addition to the two captured in a Hezbollah ambush.

Hezbollah has said the captured soldiers will not be returned without a release deal for Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Israel is also continuing a separate offensive in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli soldier was captured there last month.

Two rockets hit Israeli city of Haifa on Thursday evening
Israel targets Lebanon by land, air and sea: enforcing naval blockade, bombing Beirut airport and shelling Lebanese towns
Jets bomb Lebanese army air base at Rayak and Baalbek TV transmitter in Bekaa Valley
Shelling from both sides is heaviest over Lebanon's southern border
Hezbollah targets Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and Safed in Israel

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/07/13 22:39:54 GMT

EU and Russia criticise but US backs strikes

Thursday 13 July 2006 10:58 AM GMT

Beirut airport was bombed by Israeli jets

France and Russia have condemned Israel's attacks on Lebanon, while the US described the offensive as Tel Aviv’s right to defend itself.

Russia and the European Union have condemned Israel's strikes in Lebanon but the US says Israel has the right to defend itself.

George Bush, the US president, spoke up for Israel's attack on Beirut airport, but warned the Israelis they should be careful not to weaken the fragile Lebanese government.

"Israel has the right to defend herself," Bush told a news conference after talks with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

Pressure on Syria

Bush also urged Syria to put pressure on Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers, saying: "Syria needs to be held to account."

Merkel called for a "de-escalation" of the conflict and said: "The attacks did not start from the Israeli side but from Hezbollah's side."

But Russia and the European Union said there could be no justification for Israel's air and sea blockade on Lebanon.

"Actions, which are contrary to international humanitarian law, can only aggravate the vicious circle of violence and retribution," the EU presidency said in a statement.

The comments came as a three-strong United Nations team headed to the Middle East in an attempt to defuse the crisis.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, denounced both Israel's attack on Lebanon and its operations against the occupied Palestinian territories.

"This is a disproportionate response to what has happened and if both sides are going to drive each other into a tight corner then I think that all this will develop in a very dramatic and tragic way," Interfax news agency reported him as saying.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Israel's bombardment of Beirut airport "a disproportionate act of war", saying there was a real risk of a regional war.

Douste-Blazy also condemned as "irresponsible acts" Hezbollah's firing of rockets into northern Israel and the seizure of the soldiers.

Muslim-Arab reaction

In the Muslim world, Malaysia - current chair of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference - condemned Israel and urged the international community to take action.

In Tunis, an Arab anti-terrorism conference appealed for an immediate halt to the Israeli attacks and condemned what it called Israel's "state terrorism".

The International Committee of the Red Cross voiced concern about the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict and urged all sides to respect international law.

The violence is the worst between Israel and Lebanon since 1996 when Israeli troops still occupied part of the south.

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Israeli-Lebanese attacks intensify

Thursday 13 July 2006 10:43 PM GMT

Israel hit Beirut's airport as part of a blockade of Lebanon

At least 55 people have been killed in Israeli air raids in Lebanon, including one striking the main highway linking Beirut and the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The Israeli army said Hezbollah fighters fired more than 100 rockets on northern Israel, killing two people, wounding 92 others and hitting Israel's third largest city, Haifa.

Hezbollah, a Shia group backed by Iran and Syria, denied it had fired on the port city.

Israeli fighter jets launched five attacks over a 20km stretch of the road high in the mountains of central Lebanon early on Friday.

It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in that strike but the road was closed as a precautionary measure, the authorities said.

The road across the border from Syria was the only major entry point into Lebanon still operating after Israel blockaded ports and destroyed the runways at Beirut's airport on Thursday.

More targets

A senior Israeli officer said the blockade would be maintained throughout what he said would be a prolonged offensive against Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah.

At least 55 civilians have died in Israeli raids since Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on Wednesday.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, ordered the army to continue with operations in Lebanon after meeting his defence minister and army chief of staff.

"The government has authorised the army to press on with its operation in Lebanon and hit more targets," a government official said.

The violence is the fiercest since 1996 when Israeli troops still occupied part of south Lebanon.

Riyadh blames Hezbollah

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia blamed "elements" inside Lebanon for the situation, seemingly criticising Hezbollah and Iran.

"A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside [Lebanon] and those behind them, without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and co-ordinating with Arab nations," a statement on the official news agency SPA said.

"These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Iran warned Israel against attacking Lebanon's neighbour Syria.

"If Israel commits another act of idiocy and aggresses Syria, this will be the same as an aggression against the entire Islamic world and it will receive a stinging response," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, said in a telephone conversation with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

Ahmadinejad also told Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president, that "Iran would put all its potential at the service of Lebanon".

"Iran will stay by the side of the Lebanese in the delicate circumstances in their homeland," he said in a separate phone conversation, according to a statement from the Lebanese government.

Arab governments have agreed to send their foreign ministers to Cairo for an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

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Scores killed as Israel strikes Lebanon

Thursday 13 July 2006 1:48 PM GMT

Israeli air strikes in Lebanon have killed 53 civilians as Hezbollah fighters fired rockets at towns across northern Israel.

Israeli helicopters late on Thursday attacked Beirut airport, setting fuel tanks ablaze, in the second attack on Lebanon's only international air facility.

Israel first struck the capital's airport early in the morning and began enforcing a naval blockade, expanding reprisals since Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier.

Police said 52 Lebanese civilians, including 15 children, were killed in attacks on Hezbollah targets in Beirut's southern suburbs and across southern Lebanon.

Security sources said the air strikes in south Lebanon also wounded 100 people. Ten members of a family were killed in Dweir village and seven family members died in Baflay.

Israeli warplanes later blasted runways at the main army air base in eastern Lebanon near Syria's border.

Lebanese police said that Israeli jets had dropped two bombs on the runway at the Rayak air base in the eastern Bekaa Valley, damaging it.

There were no reports of casualties.

Lebanon said on Thursday its only international airport will remain shut for at least 48 hours.

Mohammed Safadi, the transport minister, told reporters that "The airport will be partly operational within 48 hours, but reopening the airport is a political decision that will be decided by the cabinet,"

"The runways have all been hit, although some less than others," he said.


The air strikes triggered Hezbollah fighters to retaliate by firing rockets at northern Israel.

Israel media said at least 70 rockets had slammed into towns and villages in northern Israel.

Worst affected was the coastal city of Nahariya, nearly 10km south of the Lebanese border.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said a 40-year-old woman was killed when a Katyusha rocket hit her apartment in Nahariya. Medics said 27 people, including children, had been wounded in the city.

They said seven rockets hit Safed, killing a man and wounding many.

Safed is some 15km inside the Israeli border with Lebanon and among the furthest struck.

Hezbollah said it had fired 60 rockets at Nahariya.

Hezbollah also said on Thursday that it would bombard Israel's third-largest city of Haifa if it targets Beirut. Haifa is 35km south of the Lebanon border.

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Factfile: Hezbollah

by James Brandon
Wednesday 12 July 2006 6:35 PM GMT

Hezbollah is an Islamic resistance group and political party based in Lebanon. Founded by Shia Muslims to resist Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the group's political and military success has made it a model for other Islamic movements worldwide.


Hezbollah was founded in the early 1980s by Lebanese Shia who wanted to fight the Israeli army, which since 1982 had occupied a large area of southern Lebanon.

The movement grew quickly after receiving Syrian and Iranian logistical, financial and military support. Its members carried out numerous suicide attacks against Israeli targets inside Lebanon.

By the late 1990s Hezbollah had developed into a sophisticated political party while also funding free schools, hospitals and social programmes for Lebanon's often impoverished and rural Shia population.

But at the same time, its fighters continued to mount ever more lethal attacks on Israeli forces in Lebanon, leading to an increasing pressure on the Israeli government to pull out.

Israeli defeat

In May 2000 Israel withdrew from all of Lebanon. Hezbollah was widely seen as the cause of the Israeli defeat. Many observers hailed the group as the first Arab military force to defeat an Israeli army.

But while the group's popularity soared within Lebanon – even among many Lebanese Christians and Sunnis - world powers called for Hezbollah to lay down its arms and enter mainstream politics.

By late 2000 the group was under increasing international pressure to disarm now that the Israelis had left.

A new role

A few months after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the second Palestinian intifada broke out in October 2000.

In October 2000 Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border and demanded the release of Arab prisoners held by Israel.

In January 2004 Israel released nearly 500 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in return for a kidnapped Israeli businessman and the bodies of the four soldiers.

Since the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah has also attacked the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied area of land bordering Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah claims that this 25 square km area is historically Lebanese but the UN and Israel say it was captured from Syria during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The future

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has tried to build the group into the dominant political party among the Lebanese Shia, who are the largest of Lebanon's 19 religious minorities.

The movement's success at driving Israel out of Lebanon has inspired many other Islamic groups around the Middle East from Hamas in Palestine to Muqtada al-Sadr's Madhi Army in Iraq.

However, Hezbollah remains dependent on Syria and Iran for funds and arms. The US has frequently called on both countries to stop supporting the group which is today estimated to have several thousand fighters.

Syria has previously offered to disarm Hezbollah if Israel returns the Golan Heights, which it has held since 1967.

By James Brandon
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