Sunday, July 16, 2006

Airstrikes Hit Beirut

Airstrikes Hit Beirut; At Least 8 Die in Haifa: "A large rocket apparently fired by Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon smashed through the roof of a maintenance facility at an Israeli government rail yard here Sunday, killing eight people and injuring dozens more, officials reported. More than 20 rocket attacks were reported in Haifa on Sunday, but the worst casualties were at the train yard.

Shaul Mafaz, Israel's minister of transportation, said the rocket was not the 120 millimeter Katyusha rockets commonly used by Hezbollah. Instead, he explained, it was a 220 millimeter rocket that Hezbollah brought into Lebanon through Syria more than a year ago. Israel put the area from Tel Aviv north to the border on alert for rocket attacks, a distance of roughly 100 miles. Traffic from the northern areas of the country was heavy as residents appeared to be leaving the area in large numbers, seeking safety in the southern region of Israel.

The comments followed a United Nations report Saturday that at least 16 Lebanese civilians, many of them children, were killed when an Israeli strike destroyed two cars fleeing a village that Israel had ordered evacuated.

In a war that has witnessed an escalation each day, the asymmetrical nature of the conflict was laid bare Saturday: For each attack by Hezbollah since it captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, Israel has inflicted a far greater price. It has systematically dismantled the country's infrastructure, displaced thousands of residents and instilled a new sense of foreboding and fear in the now-deserted streets of this brash, confident city still shadowed by the legacy of Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

In private, Hezbollah's officials showed no signs of backing down in a fight that its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, has cast in existential terms. Hezbollah militiamen fired about 90 rockets into northern Israel Saturday, including several that hit the city of Tiberias, more than 20 miles south of the border, for the first time. The attacks on Tiberias, a resort on the Sea of Galilee, came in two barrages that sent four Israeli civilians to the hospital with shrapnel wounds and seven others suffering from anxiety.

The Haifa and Tiberias strikes underscored the changes in Hezbollah's arsenal, which Israeli military officials said has been greatly improved since Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000. Lebanese military analysts believe Hezbollah has as many as 10,000 Katyusha rockets with a range of 12 miles, although some have been modified to reach farther. Hezbollah is also believed to possess a far smaller number of Fajr rockets, which, with a range of about 30 miles, are more dangerous for Israel, and Zilzals, its most potent weapons with possible ranges of 130 miles. Analysts say it probably has a few dozen of those.

Some of the short-range rockets hit other towns and fields across northern Israel on Saturday, setting brush ablaze and lightly injuring at least seven other people. Dozens more were treated for shock. Before the attack on the Haifa rail yard Sunday, four Israeli civilians had been killed and more than 100 treated for injuries, most of them suffering from panic.

The scope of Israeli attacks broadened across the country Saturday -- on gas stations, fuel tanks, roads and the last bridge on the highway to Damascus, the main artery out of the country. Ports were struck in Tripoli and the Christian towns of Juniyah and Amsheet. After nightfall, Israeli aircraft attacked what appeared to be Hezbollah offices in the eastern city of Baalbek, near the Syrian border.

In a country often vividly divided by sect, the Druze community in the Chouf opened its schools to Shiite inhabitants in regions near the Israeli border. At Barouk Middle School, local officials carried in loaves of bread and about 200 residents set up makeshift apartments in classrooms. Clothes were draped over school desks next to cheap carpets, and cardboard boxes were filled with beans, oil and peaches. Foam mattresses with tattered blankets were laid out beneath chalkboards."

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