`Open war' on Israel

In Mediterranean

Unmanned Hezbollah aircraft strikes Israeli warship

In Lebanon

Israeli fighter jets demolish Hezbollah headquarters

In Israel

Cabinet approves extended operations in Lebanon

July 15, 2006|By MEGAN K. STACK AND LAURA KING | MEGAN K. STACK AND LAURA KING,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Israeli fighter jets demolished Hezbollah's headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut yesterday, after striking power plants, the main highway leading from the city to Damascus and Beirut's airport.

Hezbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, responding to the destruction of the apartment building that served as his home and headquarters, warned that attacks by Hezbollah fighters would intensify and reach new targets.

"To the Zionists, you wanted an open war and you will have it," he said in a statement, promising "to reach Haifa and even farther."

"The surprises I promised you will start now," he said. "The Israeli war vessels that inflicted damage on our infrastructure ... will burn and sink in front of you. This is the start."

His threat against Israeli naval ships apparently referred to Hezbollah's use yesterday of an unmanned aircraft laden with explosives, a drone that crashed into an Israeli warship off Beirut's Mediterranean coast.

The Israeli army said the ship suffered severe damage and was on fire hours later as it headed home.

There were no details on the ship's crew, though Al-Jazeera TV said the Israeli military was searching for four missing sailors.

Israel, meanwhile, drew up a list of fresh targets and vowed to diminish Hezbollah's power in southern Lebanon.

Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of the general staff, said: "We want to put Hezbollah out of business. We want to force the Lebanese government to take responsibility and deploy along the border and dismantle Hezbollah, which, if it is allowed, will prevent any stabilization and peace process in the Middle East."

Hezbollah rockets continued to fall on Israel, with more than 90 hitting northern Israel, wounding at least 60 people, especially in Nahariya and Safed, the government said.

Two more Israelis, a woman and her 5-year-old grandson, were killed, and 10 were wounded, including three other children, when a rocket fell on their house in Meron. Two Israelis died Thursday.

In total, more than 300 rockets have hit Israel, killing four people and wounding more than 150.

Five Lebanese died in the airstrikes yesterday, bringing the death total there over the past three days to 66, with more than 200 wounded, according to the Lebanese police.

Israeli warplanes targeted residential intersections, highway overpasses and bridges in the densely populated Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut's southern suburbs. Dark tails of black smoke climbed high into the sky from the airport, which was bombed for the second day in a row.

President Bush rejected the Lebanese demand for a cease-fire. Bush, who was in Russia for the Group of Eight summit, which opens today, said yesterday that Israel has a right to defend itself and should try to limit civilian deaths in the violence that continues to escalate.

Although Israel's airstrikes have encompassed a wide range of targets, many of them seem chosen for their status as emblems of Hezbollah, such as TV installations, or staged to inflict highly visible damage that would be fairly easy to repair. The strikes on the airport, for example, did not target the new terminal or the control tower.

The Lebanese government insisted that it had no advance knowledge of Hezbollah's cross-border raid Wednesday, which led to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and triggered the fighting. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack by Hezbollah.

The Israeli air campaign was the heaviest against its northern neighbor since the mid-1980s. For many Lebanese, the strikes stirred painful memories.

Israel expressed fears Thursday that the captured soldiers could be taken to Iran, Hezbollah's chief patron. Israel and the United States have accused Iran of fomenting violence through its support of the group.

The confrontation in Lebanon comes as Israel remains locked in a standoff with Palestinian militants in Gaza, sparked by the capture of a soldier June 25. More than 80 people have died in the offensive, and the soldier's captors, three factions with links to the militant group Hamas, have refused to back down from their demand that Israel release prisoners in exchange for his freedom.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that he has no intention of negotiating a prisoner exchange with either Hezbollah or Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israel is engaged in a simultaneous military effort in Gaza, from which it withdrew its settlers and troops a year ago.

Israel is continuing to hold back on a major infantry push into southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has set up numerous land mines and booby-traps.

"There are many ways of pushing them back from the border," Nehushtan said.

"The ground forces are ready," the general said. "We're prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that the previous situation will not return.

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