Archive for Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel strikes Hezbollah leader’s headquarters

July 15, 2006

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— Israel bombed the home and office of the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, in southern Beirut on Friday and tightened a land, air and sea blockade of Lebanon in an intensifying assault launched after the militant group abducted two Israeli soldiers.

Hezbollah said that Nasrallah and his family were safe after the attack and that the strike had destroyed the apartment house and office building in the group's compound in the crowded Shiite neighborhoods south of the Lebanese capital.

In a defiant message broadcast after the strike, Nasrallah vowed an "open war" with Israel, which is pursuing its broadest offensive in Lebanon in 24 years.

"You wanted an open war, we are going to an open war and we're ready for it," Nasrallah said, addressing Israelis in an audiotape broadcast on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station. The remarks appeared to have been prerecorded and did not mention the attack on the Hezbollah leader's office.

Nasrallah promised an attack on an Israeli gunboat shelling Beirut, and shortly after the broadcast the Israeli military said that one of its warships off the coast had been hit and damaged, possibly by a rocket or an explosive-packed drone launched from the shore.

A military spokeswoman said the vessel was set ablaze and that four crew members were missing and may have been trapped in the fire. The steering mechanism was damaged, and the boat was towed back to Israel.

A Lebanese soldier stands near a crater after Israeli airstrikes Friday at the main Mar Mikhail crossroads in southern Beirut, Lebanon. Israel has widened its offensive on Lebanon, with fighter bombers blasting the airport for a second day and residential buildings in the southern suburbs of the capital. The blasts ignited fuel storage tanks and cut the main highway to Syria.

A Lebanese soldier stands near a crater after Israeli airstrikes Friday at the main Mar Mikhail crossroads in southern Beirut, Lebanon. Israel has widened its offensive on Lebanon, with fighter bombers blasting the airport for a second day and residential buildings in the southern suburbs of the capital. The blasts ignited fuel storage tanks and cut the main highway to Syria.

The Al-Manar broadcast what it said were live images of a fire aboard the vessel and search flares in the sky.

Nasrallah promised longer-range rocket strikes on Israel "beyond Haifa," Israel's third-largest city, which was hit by a rocket Thursday night in the deepest attack yet from Lebanon. Haifa is 18 miles from the border with Lebanon, and Hezbollah has rockets with a range of up to 42 miles, the Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told reporters Friday.

"We won't be the only ones paying the price," Nasrallah said. "Not only our houses will be destroyed, not only our children will be killed ... those days are over. You must bear the responsibility for what your government has done."

Hezbollah fired more than 100 rockets Friday at communities across northern Israel, and one scored a direct hit on a house in the village of Meron, killing a woman and her 5-year-old grandson and wounding other family members.

More than 70 people were treated for injuries or shock after Friday's rocket strikes, the army said, and houses were damaged in several locations. About half a million residents in northern Israel were ordered to stay in or near bomb-proof rooms or shelters.

In Lebanon, the death toll from three days of Israeli air strikes and shelling rose to more than 60, most of them civilians, police said. More than 200 people have been wounded, according to medical officials.

Israeli warplanes again hit the runways of Beirut's international airport Friday, ensuring it was out of commission after five planes from Lebanon's Middle East Airlines had taken off empty for Amman, Jordan.

Bridges were bombed on the Beirut-Damascus highway, cutting the main land link between Lebanon and the outside world. Gunboats enforced a naval blockade of Lebanese ports for the second straight day.

Halutz, the Israeli chief of staff, said the aim of the military offensive in Lebanon went beyond securing the release of the two soldiers abducted by Hezbollah on Wednesday in a raid into Israel.

"The intention is to strike Hezbollah, to cause the government of Lebanon to take responsibility for what is happening from its territory and in one way or the other to create the conditions for the return of our prisoners, the abducted soldiers," Halutz said. Specifically, Israel wants the Lebanese government to remove Hezbollah from Lebanon's border with Israel and take control of the area, Halutz said.

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