Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel Steps Up Assault on Beirut Suburbs

Warplanes bombed Beirut's southern suburbs again early Sunday, witnesses reported, after a day in which Israel tightened a noose around this reeling nation with the heaviest air strikes yet in the four-day-old conflict.

The Israeli air force on Saturday hit strongholds of the Shiite Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah, bombed central Beirut for the first time, and pounded seaports and a key bridge. Then, in Sunday's early morning darkness, a half-dozen thunderous explosions shook southern Beirut, where Hezbollah is headquartered and much of the intensifying air assault has been targeted since cross-border hostilities erupted Wednesday.

Trying to defuse the crisis, Lebanon's prime minister indicated he might send his army to take control of southern Lebanon from Hezbollah guerrillas — a move that might risk civil war. In a more ominous sign that the struggle could spread, Israel accused Iran of helping fire a missile that damaged an Israeli warship, a charge Iran denied.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, fired waves of rockets ever deeper into Israel, and Israeli officials warned that Tel Aviv, 70 miles inside Israel, could be hit.

The death toll in the four-day-old conflict rose above 100 in Lebanon, and stood at 15 in Israel. The fighting erupted when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border raid.



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