No respite in Middle East showdown

Israeli gunships have attacked central Beirut for the first time in Israel’s four-day-old assault on Lebanon as the civilian death toll neared 100.

Lebanese civilians flee an area hit by Israeli strikes
Lebanese civilians flee an area hit by Israeli strikes

The renewed fighting prompted Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, to repeat calls for a ceasefire on Saturday saying that Israeli attacks had turned Lebanon into a disaster area in need of international aid.


“We call for an immediate ceasefire backed by the United Nations,” Siniora told a news conference in Beirut. “I declare today that Lebanon is a disaster zone in need of a comprehensive and speedy Arab plan … and [it] pleads to its friends in the world to rush to its aid.”


The latest Israeli strikes hit the lighthouse, radar installation and grain silos at the port in Beirut, in the first attack so close to the centre of the Lebanese capital.


One Lebanese soldier was wounded.


A soldier was also killed and three others wounded in an Israeli military strike on their position in the coastal city of Batroun, north of Beirut, the army said.


It was not clear why Israel appeared to now be targeting the Lebanese army, but it could be to knock out radar capabilities, particularly after the Hezbollah missile attack that severely damaged an Israeli warship off the Beirut coast on Friday.


Israeli helicopters also fired two missiles at the port in the mainly Christian city of Jounieh, north of Beirut, and in Tripoli, Lebanon‘s second largest city. 


Northern Israel hit


Also on Saturday, Hezbollah rockets hit towns in northern Israel including Tiberias, 35 kilometres from the border, which was the deepest penetration so far. Several people were reported injured.


Rockets also struck other Israeli towns, including the coastal resort of Nahariya, but caused no casualties or damage, an Israeli military source said.


Fearing more rocket attacks on its northern territory, Israel started deploying Patriot missile batteries in Haifa, home to one million, to intercept rockets fired from Lebanon.


Nasrallah targetted


Earlier on Saturday, Israeli forces destroyed the Beirut headquarters of the Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, in air strikes.


There was no word on whether the 45-year-old Nasrallah, who declared “open war” on Israel on Friday, was inside the nine-storey building at the time of the strikes.


The building was also bombarded on Friday along with Nasrallah’s nearby home. He was unscathed by Friday’s Israeli air strike.


An Israeli minister warned on Saturday that Israel would “wipe out” Nasrallah at the first opportunity.


“He can benefit from no immunity. We will wipe him out at the first opportunity. That’s why he had better pray to Allah,” Zeev Boim, minister for immigration and an ally of the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told public radio.


Nasrallah’s predecessor, Abbas al-Musawi, was killed in a 1992 Israeli air strike along with his wife and three-year-old daughter.


Israeli warplanes also bombarded the house of a senior Hezbollah official in the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek on Saturday. Two other air strikes targeted the Imam Ali mosque and the judicial palace in Baalbek, a main Hezbollah stronghold.


Death toll nears 100


Civilians, mainly Lebanese, have paid a heavy price in the four-day-old showdown between Hezbollah and Israel.


More than 90 Lebanese have been killed and some 250 wounded since Israel began its assault after the capture of two soldiers and the killing of eight others by Hezbollah on Wednesday.


On Saturday alone, Israeli air strikes killed at least 32 civilians, including 15 children.


In once incident, eighteen people, including children, were burnt alive when a helicopter gunship hit a convoy of families that was fleeing border villages in southern Lebanon, UN peacekeepers and hospital sources said.


Separately, Lebanese fighters have fired over 100 rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel over the past three days, killing four civilians. 

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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