Smug Annoying Centrist
Join Date: Sep 2005
Beirut airport under attack
By staff writers and wires
July 13, 2006
Strike ... Israeli warplanes target a bridge in Lebanon / AP
ISRAELI warplanes today bombed runways at Beirut's Rafiq Hariri International Airport, which was then closed to traffic, a Lebanese aeronautic source said.
Witnesses said there were at least two raids on an eastern runway while Lebanese anti-aircraft batteries frantically fired at the invading planes.
The bombing of the airport, recently named after former premier Hariri who was assassinated in February 2005, came after nearly 24 hours of Israeli bombardments, up to then concentrated on bridges linking south Lebanon with the rest of the country.
The military action started after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement in a border operation.
The Hezbollah raid on an army patrol on the volatile border was branded an "act of war" by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who moved quickly to authorise an "aggressive and harsh" Israeli response.
At least eight Israeli soldiers, along with a Hezbollah fighter, two Lebanese civilians and a Lebanese soldier have been killed in the deadliest 24 hours of fighting since Israel ended its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon six years ago.
Israeli helicopters carried out three successive dawn raids north of the port city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, police said, without immediately mentioning whether there were victims.
A Lebanese soldier was killed overnight when Israeli war planes took out a bridge south of Beirut.
The White House held Syria and Iran responsible for the flare-up, as world powers urgently appealed for restraint.
Hezbollah, or the Party of God, whose militia was instrumental in forcing Israeli troops out of Lebanon in May 2000, said it was demanding the release of Arab prisoners in return for the soldiers.
"They will only return home through indirect negotiations and an exchange of prisoners," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said, saying the abduction was aimed at drawing international attention to the plight of "thousands of Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab detainees."
But Mr Olmert insisted there would be no negotiations.
"This was an act of war without any provocation on the sovereign territory... of the state of Israel," said Mr Olmert, facing the most serious test of his leadership since his government took office in May.
Israeli fighter jets, gunboats and artillery pounded Lebanon, hitting Hezbollah targets and about 10 bridges, cutting off the highway linking Beirut to the south.
After an emergency meeting, the Israeli cabinet gave the green light to unspecified retaliatory action against Lebanon, which has been mired in its own political crisis since the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and is still rebuilding after the devastating 1975-1990 civil war.
"Israel must respond with the necessary severity to this act of aggression... Israel will respond aggressively and harshly to those who carried out, and are responsible for, today's action," a cabinet statement said.
Army chief Dan Halutz vowed on Israeli television to "take Lebanon back 20 years."
Israel has already called up a rapid-reaction force of 6000 troops headed for the northern border, where many residents were heading for bunkers to escape mortars and Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah at the Jewish state.
The Lebanese government - which includes a Hezbollah minister - denied any involvement in the Hezbollah action and demanded an urgent UN Security Council meeting.
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora also called up a host of world leaders "to ask them to help Lebanon in the face of the aggression and in order to contain the situation."
Yemen also called for an emergency meeting of the 22-member Arab League.
The White House, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist outfit, condemned the capture of the soldiers and pointed the finger at Israel's two main foes, Iran and Syria, which both bankroll the fundamentalist Shiite movement.
"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the two soldiers. We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence," said national security spokesman Frederick Jones.
Washington also defended Israel's ground incursion into Lebanon -- the first since the 2000 pullout, saying its chief Middle East ally was entitled to defend itself against "terrorist" attacks.
UN chief Kofi Annan urged all sides to show restraint and to protect civilians.
Lebanese police said two civilians and a soldier were killed and 26 people wounded in Israeli reprisal attacks.
Hezbollah later claimed a pair of mortar attacks on the army's headquarters along the Lebanese border, but the military said no one was injured.
News of the captured soldiers was greeted with celebratory gunfire across the southern suburbs of Beirut - a Hezbollah stronghold - while some residents handed out candy to passing motorists .
"Long live Hezbollah, death to Israel," chanted youths.
The governing Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, whose military wing is one of three groups holding another soldier captive in Gaza, said the latest abductions showed the "weakness of the Israeli army."
Israel has been on high alert for possible retaliation following its threats to kill Hamas leaders in Damascus and since it sent warplanes over a Syrian presidential palace in a show of force last month.
The return of Israeli troops to Gaza 10 months after the army ended a 38-year-occupation has already evoked painful memories of its disastrous full-scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982 where soldiers became bogged down in a deadly quagmire before finally leaving.
Yesterday's flare-up on the northern border came shortly after Israeli tanks and troops pushed a new offensive in Gaza, killing 23 people, including nine members of the same family in an air strike on the home of a Hamas leader.
Early today it also fired missiles at the foreign ministry in Gaza, witnesses said.
Israel has launched wave after wave of air strikes in Gaza in a bid to secure the release of an Israeli corporal and stop rocket attacks.
Gilad Shalit was captured in an attack by three groups including the armed wing of Hamas - which is branded a terrorist movement by Israel and the West.
The groups have demanded the release of 1000 Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and other prisoners but Israel has refused to negotiate.
The latest abductions and killings of Israeli soldiers are likely to raise embarrassing questions about the Jewish state's military, which considers itself one of the strongest in the world.
A columnist in Israel's Haaretz newspaper called the Hezbollah attack "a ringing failure for the IDF," an acronym for the Israeli army.
In January 2004, Israel and Hezbollah carried out a swap through German mediation that saw hundreds of Arab detainees released, the return of the bodies of three soldiers, and the freeing of an Israeli businessman.
Once again into the breech...