Thursday, July 13, 2006


Beirut 1966-2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel's warplanes bombed Beirut's international airport and its navy blockaded Lebanon's ports in a sharp escalation of a military campaign Thursday.

Hezbollah guerrillas fired scores of rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel in the most intense bombardment in years.

Some 45 people and two soldiers have been killed inside Lebanon since Wednesday, the country's health ministry said, while the rocket attacks killed at least one woman in Israel.

Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport was forced to close after Israeli fighter jets hit all three of its runways, leaving huge craters that made them unusable.

Two other Lebanese airports were attacked Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The IDF gave no details, but Lebanese army sources said that the Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border had been hit as well as a small military airport in Qulayaat in northern Lebanon.

Israel said it targeted the international airport in the capital's suburbs because it was a transfer point for weapons and supplies to Hezbollah, the militant group that captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in raids this week.

Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat called the airport strikes a "general act of war," saying they had nothing to do with Hezbollah but were instead an attack against the country's "economic interests," especially its tourism industry. All Beirut-bound flights are having to be diverted.

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi called for a comprehensive cease-fire, saying the Lebanese government had nothing to do with the Hezbollah attacks.

After Israel's airport strike, planes began dropping leaflets warning residents of an impending attack on an area of southern Beirut where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is believed to live. (Watch initial reports on the runway bombings -- 6:00)

If such a strike happened, Hezbollah said it would attack the northern Israeli city of Haifa, where 300,000 people live.

The U.S. Navy moved a small military tug out of Haifa after the threat.

Israel: 'We mean business'
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he fears a "regional war is mounting" with Israel's military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, where forces were deployed after last month's capture of an Israeli soldier.

"This is not our interest and will not bring peace and stability to the region," Abbas said, referring to "this [Israeli] aggression."

President Bush said all countries had a right to defend themselves but warned Israel to take care not to "weaken" Lebanon's government.

Bush also stressed during a visit to Germany that Syria "needs to be held to account."

Hezbollah enjoys substantial backing from Syria and Iran and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. The group holds posts in Lebanon's government.

Israeli Security Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog said: "We are taking strong measures so that it will be clear to the Lebanese people and government ... that we mean business."

The United Nations will send a team to the Middle East to urge both sides to use restraint, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday.

Captives named
Israeli airstrikes were aimed at targets used by Hezbollah for storing weapons, the IDF said.

Warplanes also hit al-Manar television station because Hezbollah uses it to incite and recruit activists, the IDF said. A broadcast tower was destroyed and three people injured, but the station was able to continue broadcasting, al-Manar editor Ibrahim Moussawi said.

Israel's Cabinet authorized a "severe and harsh" response to the abduction of the two soldiers, named Thursday as Ehud Goldvasser, 31, from Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, from the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin.

Hezbollah called for a prisoner exchange but, as in Gaza, Israel has rejected the call.

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah told reporters that seizing the soldiers was "our natural, only and logical right" to win freedom for Hezbollah prisoners held by Israel.

Nasrallah said the two soldiers had been taken to a place "far, far away" and that an Israeli military campaign would not win their release.

More than 70 Katyusha rockets have hit Israel in the past 24 hours, the IDF said.

Missiles critically injured one person and hurt at least 10 others in Safed, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) from the Lebanese border, which local officials said not been hit by Hezbollah rockets since 1972. (Watch the rocket's explosion and town chaos -- 1:45)

Also in northern Israel, a woman was killed and 15 people hurt in a rocket attack in Nahariya, and at least 38 people were injured when rockets hit the Arab village of Carmiel, Israeli ambulance services said.


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