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Israel Pounds Lebanon in Largest Offensive Since 1982 Invasion

Retrieved from Naharnet on July 13, 2006


 Israel widened its offensive against Hizbullah Thursday, targeting Beirut airport and forcing its closure, and blasting southern Lebanon for a second day in what appeared to be the Jewish state's fiercest military campaign against the country since the 1982 invasion.

Israeli warplanes bombed three runways at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport early on Thursday and killed 28 Lebanese civilians in a series of raids after Israel vowed a harsh response to the killing and capture of two of its soldiers by Hizbullah guerrillas.


An Israeli woman was also killed when Hizbullah fired off a barrage of rockets across the volatile border, sending panicked residents of communities in northern Israel into bomb shelters.


Israeli fighter jets slammed missiles into three runways, forcing the closure of the brand new airport and the diversion of flights to Cyprus.


Lebanese police said 28 civilians, including 10 children, were killed in a wave of attacks Thursday, including a strike on Hizbullah's Manar TV in Beirut's southern suburbs.


The Jewish state's air force also struck a Shiite prayer house in the town of Bawadi in the Bekaa Valley and a transmission station belonging to al Manar TV on a hill overlooking the town of Baalbek.

Hizbullah fired Katyusha rockets at the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona, targeting an airstrip. Another barrage of rockets targeted Nahariya near the coast.

In addition to the woman killed in Nahariya, several other civilians were wounded early Thursday.

Shortly after 6 a.m. shells struck the eastern, western and coastal runway at the airport, which closed shortly after the strike. Flights were diverted to the neighboring Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

The main terminal building of the US$500 million facility, which was built in the late 1990s, was intact.

Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammad el-Hout told LBC TV that the company had moved its fleet to Larnaca in Cyprus before the bombing. He said that a team was currently assessing the damage at the airport in order to repair at least one of the runways to reopen the facility.

LBC's reporter said the damage was assessed at 5 million U.S. dollars.

In Israel, the military confirmed it targeted Beirut airport, saying in a statement the facility "is a central hub for the transfer of weapons and supplies" to Hizbullah.

The latest fighting erupted in southern Lebanon on Wednesday after Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack. Eight other Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting and Israel promised harsh retaliation, launching a wide scale offensive in the South Wednesday.

Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday offered to trade the soldiers for Arab prisoners, warning Israel that he will fight if attacked.

It was the first time since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut that the airport in south Beirut was hit by Israel.

On Wednesday, the Lebanese government insisted it was not responsible for Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers and demanded an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting after what it called Israel's "aggressive" retaliation.

In its offensive overnight, Israeli aircraft and artillery targeted roads and bridges as well as Hizbullah positions and the houses of some of its members and leaders.

The jets fired rockets on a bridge in the coastal town of Damour, about 15 kilometers south of Beirut, forcing people who were leaving the South to walk across caters carrying their belongings. The raids also struck the Awwali Bridge, north of the main southern port city of Sidon.(AP-AFP-Naharnet)