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French Version

Death toll hits 141 as Jewish state targets residential areas

Israel's attacks on Lebanon intensified over the weekend with the Israeli military bombing Beirut's southern suburbs, in addition to targeting villages and infrastructure throughout the country.

At least 39 people were killed and 105 wounded in Israel's offensive on Sunday. Five straight days of Israeli bombardments and air strikes have claimed a total of 141 lives, with the vast majority of those killed civilians and children.

The Canadian government confirmed Sunday that eight of those killed earlier in the day held Canadian citizenship.

Shortly before The Daily Star went to press, at least 20 missiles struck the main fuel tank at Rafik Hariri International Airport and an adjacent tunnel. The attack was the fifth on the airport. Also Sunday, the power plant in Jiyye was struck for the third time.

In the most shocking attack of the day, Israeli warplanes raided a building in the Southern port town of Tyre that housed the Civil Defense. The attack killed more than 20 civilians and wounded at least 50, including foreign relief workers.

Israel's attacks have targeted vital infrastructure, forcing the closure of the country's only international airport and slicing through dozens of bridges, harbors, roads and the main highways leading into Syria.

Earlier Sunday, Hizbullah launched rockets into Haifa, Israel's third largest city, killing eight and wounding 20 in retaliation for Israel's furious bombardment of southern Beirut.

Following the attack on the northern Israeli city, Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert warned of "far-reaching consequences."

"Our government is determined to do everything necessary to reach our objectives. Nothing will prevent us," Olmert said.

Israel's military urged residents to flee villages in Southern Lebanon, warning of air and artillery attacks. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said the move was aimed at forcing an exodus of "tens of thousands of civilians" in order to put pressure on Hizbullah.

Israeli attacks have targeted dozens of towns and villages in the South, but also areas in the Bekaa Valley, particularly the ancient city of Baalbek.

In Beirut's southern suburbs, Hizbullah's stronghold was left in tatters, with countless buildings flattened by bombardments targeting the resistance movement's powerbase.

Israel's strikes have practically wiped out Hizbullah's self-proclaimed "security perimeter" in Haret Hreik - a heavily guarded zone which Hizbullah maintains off-limits to outsiders.

The attacks also destroyed buildings housing the home and offices of Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the group's Al-Manar television station, which nevertheless continued to broadcast.

Bridges leading to the mosque complex of Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Shiite authority figure, were broken in two.

Meanwhile, Israel's army chief of staff, Dan Halutz, refused to rule out a ground offensive in Lebanon. "At the moment we are not planning any ground operation but this is not an impossibility," Halutz told ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting. The military confirmed earlier it had sent commandos across the border into Lebanon.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel will not stop its offensive until "the reality changes," but denied allegations it would reoccupy Lebanon.

"We do not want to reoccupy Lebanon, we have other means of operating," he said.

"All those who attacked Haifa and positions behind our lines will pay a very heavy price," Peretz told a news conference in the northern city where eight civilians were killed in a Hizbullah rocket attack on Sunday.

Hizbullah has claimed to have stopped Israeli troops from entering Lebanon across the Southern border more than once since the crisis erupted Wednesday.

The Lebanese resistance, which established a joint operation room with the Amal Movement after the latter declared a general mobilization of its troops, fired rockets on several northern Israeli towns Sunday, including Nahariyya and Shavei Zion, both coastal towns just a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border.

After Sunday's attack on Haifa, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "The idea that Hizbullah is some sort of rag-tag militia with AK-47s and a few RPGs is simply ridiculous," adding it was "a formidable military organization."

Although Israel charged Iran and Syria with playing a key role in Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers Wednesday, the country's chief spokesman said Sunday it had no plans "at this present moment" to attack.

"There is full responsibility on the shoulders of Iran and Syria," spokesman Isaac Herzog told ABC television, without ruling out future attacks against the two countries.

"The responsibility lies on them; we know it and we will remember it," Herzog said. "Nonetheless at this present moment we are focused on Lebanon."

Hizbullah said it had intentionally avoided hitting petrochemical installations in Haifa, but threatened to do so if Israel continued to target civilians.

After the attack, a heightened state of alert was imposed across northern Israel, including Tel Aviv, as authorities realized the range of Hizbullah's arsenal may be much longer than previously thought.

Thousands of residents have started to flee northern Israel, while those staying behind are sleeping in bomb shelters.

The Israeli military said Sunday it had recovered the remains of three more sailors reported missing after a warship was hit by Hizbullah fire off the coast of Beirut last week.

The body of a fourth missing sailor was recovered on Saturday.

Beirut 17-07-2006
The Daily Star

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