Pattaya Daily News

14 July 2006 :: 16:07:18 pm 33107

Fighting escalates between Israel, Hezbollah

Fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas escalated to new heights, as the Lebanese government called for a cease-fire.
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  At least 57 people were killed Thursday.

   Israel intensified its offensive with a second attack on Beirut‘s airport. Lebanese security officials said helicopter gun ships unleashed missiles that set fuel tanks ablaze at the country‘s only international air facility.

   Israel has ramped up its attacks on Lebanon to put pressure on the government and force Hezbollah to free two Israeli soldiers the guerrillas captured Wednesday.

   In its first attack early Thursday, Israeli warplanes punched holes in the airport‘s three runways, killing at least three-dozen civilians.

   Israeli warplanes also blasted runways at the main army air base in eastern Lebanon near Syria‘s border as warships began blocking Lebanese ports.

   Israel defense officials said the blockades will “block the transfer of terrorists and weaponry.”

   The airport, located in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, was closed after the attacks and flights were diverted to Larnaca in nearby Cyprus.

   Israeli Army Radio said the objective was to shut down international civilian air travel into and out of Lebanon.

   Lebanese ministers called for a ceasefire with Israel, saying all means should be used to end “open aggression” against their country.

   Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed an allegation the two captured soldiers were being moved to Iran, in an apparent effort to keep them away from Israeli forces.

   “(Israel) is trapped in its homemade crisis and these sort of accusations are simply nonsense,” ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was quoted saying by Iran‘s news agency IRNA.

   Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev made the claim Thursday, but did not reveal the source of his information.

Rockets aimed at Haifa

   Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerrillas retaliated by firing rockets into the northern Israeli port city of Haifa. Israeli officials reported the Haifa attacks and said there were no injuries.

   Haifa, Israel‘s third largest city, is around 30 kilometers from the Lebanese border and was previously thought to be out of Hezbollah‘s range.

   The escalation of violence came as the European Union slammed Israel for using “disproportionate” force in its attacks on Lebanon following Wednesday‘s capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas.

   The EU also said Israel‘s naval blockade cutting off supply routes to Lebanon was “unjustified.”

   “The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon,” the EU statement read.

   “The presidency deplores the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified.”

Panic in Beirut

   The bombings caused panic in Beirut, and many people stayed home from work. Long lines formed at gas stations and supermarkets were packed with emergency shoppers.

   The violence also pushed crude oil prices to a new intraday record of $75.88 US a barrel.

   U.S. President George Bush, speaking during a trip to Germany, warned that Israel should take care not to “weaken” Lebanon‘s government, but said Israel “has a right to defend itself.”

   UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he planned to send three veteran UN officials to the Middle East to try and defuse what he called a “major crisis.”

Israeli soldiers

   Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported on its website that the Israeli cabinet decided it would hold the government of Lebanon responsible for the capture of the Israeli soldiers.

   For its part, Lebanon‘s government has disavowed any knowledge of, or responsibility for, the kidnappings of the two Israeli soldiers.

   The Lebanese Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah members, has urged the UN Security Council to intervene.

   CTV‘s Middle East Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer said Israel “had been very adamant that it would not negotiate for the return of its soldiers.”

   Appearing on Newsnet Thursday, Mackey Frayer said there had been “a lot of very harsh talk between Israel and Syria, so there is the sense that maybe Syria could be drawn into this.”

   Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said he would only release the two captured Israeli soldiers as part of a prisoner swap with Palestinians jailed in Israel.

   Israel and Lebanon have a history of conflict, punctuated by a full-scale Israeli invasion in 1982, and its 18-year occupation of a buffer zone in southern Lebanon that was intended to prevent attacks on Israel.

   The last major Israeli air, ground and sea offensive against Lebanon was in 1996 when about 150 Lebanese civilians were killed.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : World News

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