Attacks' range widens


HAIFA, Israel -- The first rocket to hit this bayside city from southern Lebanon has confirmed worries in Israel that Hezbollah has rockets that can hit targets deep in their nation, and that the militant group is prepared to use them.

A length of police tape was the only sign yesterday of where a rocket slammed into a hill here, about 20 miles from the Lebanese border, a night earlier.

The strike against Israel's third-largest city caused no injuries, but officials said it made clear the worrisome improvement in the range of rockets that Hezbollah guerrillas have at their disposal.

"The very fact that we became a target of a terrorist attack from south Lebanon is a new reality in the life of our city," said the city's mayor, Yona Yahav.

As an urban center and port on the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa represents a far richer target for Hezbollah fighters than the tiny communities that hug the forested border with Lebanon and have most often been hit by Katyusha rockets, whose normal maximum range is 12 to 18 miles.

Army officials say Hezbollah has beefed up its arsenal with Iranian rockets capable of reaching deep into Israel. Israeli military sources said the rocket was not a Katyusha and was believed made in Iran.

"We know they have the capabilities and that if it was up to them, they'd use them," said Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli military spokeswoman.

Brig. Gen Yossi Baidatz, who heads the research wing of army intelligence, told the foreign affairs committee of the Israeli parliament that Hezbollah has about 100 rockets capable of reaching 25 to 45 miles, the Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported.

The report said the older of the longer-range rockets, an Iranian-made Fajr 3, carries 50 pounds of explosives, while the newer Fajr 5 has a 385-pound warhead. It was unclear which of the two might have targeted Haifa.

Officials said Hezbollah might also have rockets capable of reaching 75 miles, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, the former Air Force commander, told Israel Radio. If true, that is far enough to reach the fringes of Tel Aviv.

Also, the daily Haaretz newspaper reported that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah might have rockets that could travel even farther, putting them in reach of most of the main cities in Israel.

Officials and analysts said attacks on Haifa, with 270,000 residents and the possibility of large-scale losses, would trigger especially fierce reprisals by Israel.

"The missile on Haifa gave the [army] the authorization from the political echelon to go all the way, in other words to smash Hezbollah," military affairs correspondent Amir Rappaport wrote in the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

Perhaps fearing severe retaliation, the Islamist militant group denied having launched the rocket, which struck a few hundred yards from a 19th-century church and monastery compound known as Stella Maris. Yesterday, the group reiterated threats to hit Haifa.

"It's not so pleasant, but we were waiting for it," said Itzik Haimovitch, a 51-year-old artist who joined a parade of visitors to the ridge-top spot where the rocket struck. The panorama below offered signs of a city going on with its life: a cargo ship leaving port, windsurfers darting across frothy ribbons of surf. Up the coast, beyond the haze, lay Lebanon.

"We have to be with our eyes open until there is a cease-fire by both sides," Haimovitch said. "My grandmother used to say, `They are not shooting beans.' These are real."

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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