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WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Israel and Hezbollah Keep Up Attacks

The Jewish state says it targeted more than 100 sites in Lebanon, and the militants launch about 130 rockets. Dozens are killed.

July 19, 2006|Laura King and Megan K. Stack | Times Staff Writers

JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes continued to blast targets in Lebanon on Tuesday as a fierce new wave of rockets fired by Hezbollah guerrillas fell across northern Israel.

The Israeli military said its targets included a convoy of trucks carrying weapons into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley from Syria -- part of what Israel contends is a pattern of Syrian support for Hezbollah.

In Washington, President Bush accused Syria of trying to reassert its influence in Lebanon by supporting the guerrillas.

"Listen, Syria is trying to get back into Lebanon, it looks like to me," Bush said. He added that there were "suspicions that the instability created by the Hezbollian attacks will cause some in Lebanon to invite Syria back in, and it's against the United Nations policy and it's against U.S. policy."

Israel said it attacked more than 100 locations in Lebanon on Tuesday, and at least 27 people were reported killed. Hezbollah kept up its assault by launching more than 130 rockets, according to an Israeli count, and one man was killed in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, about five miles from the Lebanese border, when his home was hit. Thirty Israelis were reported injured in various strikes.

In Lebanon, the dead included 11 people killed in an air assault on an army base. An airstrike on a house in Aitaroun killed as many as nine family members, including children, according to media reports.

In an interview with the BBC, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Israel was "opening the gates of hell and madness" on his country. He also urged Hezbollah to release two captured Israeli soldiers.

The fighting began last week after Hezbollah guerrillas captured the soldiers during a cross-border raid into Israel that also left eight Israeli soldiers dead.

Top Israeli officials who met Tuesday with a United Nations delegation repeated Israel's demand that the captured soldiers be returned and called for the deployment of Lebanese troops along the border.

The fighting has left more than 230 dead in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and 25 dead in Israel, 13 of them civilians. Air raid sirens wailed throughout the day in Israeli communities, including Haifa, the country's third-largest city, which has been struck repeatedly. Hezbollah has fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel since the start of the fighting, the Israeli military said.

The Israeli military says small forces are moving quickly in and out of Lebanon, mainly working to disarm bombs and wreck Hezbollah outposts.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in the Palestinian territories, where Israeli tanks moved into the Mughazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, the smell of smoke and chemicals hung in the deserted streets and jets could be heard circling overhead.

Craters gaped in the middle of intersections, and apartment buildings had collapsed into smoldering rubble. A pair of Hezbollah guards near the scene of a massive building collapse urged reporters to keep driving, warning that jets had been firing missiles when groups of people appeared to be congregating.

Although their neighborhoods have borne the brunt of Israel's wrath, Hezbollah's Shiite Muslim supporters remained defiant and expressed support for the group's leader.

"God protect Sayed Hassan Nasrallah. We're prepared to go through all of these difficulties as long as he remains safe," said Mirvat Kassen, 28, who had abandoned her house in a Hezbollah stronghold and sought shelter in a schoolhouse. "If they let us decide between us dying or him dying, we would die."

In Israel, meanwhile, a poll in the daily Yediot Aharonot said 86% of those surveyed supported the campaign against Hezbollah.

Along the road to the Syrian border, smoke snaked into the sky from the mountains and a truck burned against a mountainside. Witnesses said the truck was carrying fleeing Lebanese to the border when it was struck by a missile, veered off the road and crashed.

It was not immediately clear whether the truck was struck near where the Israeli military said it destroyed a convoy allegedly carrying weapons from Syria. In that strike, the Israeli military said there were "very large" secondary explosions -- a possible indicator the vehicles were carrying munitions.

Syria exercised a strong influence over Lebanon until last year, when Lebanon's Syrian-backed government collapsed and Syria withdrew its troops. Although both Syria and Iran have continued supporting Hezbollah, the Syrian government has distanced itself from the fighting. Some analysts have questioned the extent of its influence over the guerrillas.

"Syria's ties with Hezbollah are strategic, but Hezbollah fights alone," said Eyal Zisser, an analyst at Tel Aviv University. "The Syrians are smart enough not to join the fighting that Nasrallah has foolishly engaged in. Syria has no interest in getting hurt like Lebanon. They may have built Hezbollah, but they're letting them fight alone."

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