ENOCH SPEAKS - The Pastor's Blog


By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 28, 12:32 PM ET

TYRE, Lebanon - Israeli warplanes and artillery attacks Friday hit Hezbollah positions and crushed houses and roads in southern Lebanon, killing up to 12 people. Hezbollah said it fired a new kind of rocket, which landed deeper inside Israel than hundreds of other strikes in 17 days of fighting.

Later Friday, a Hezbollah rocket hit the top floor window of the main hospital in the Israeli border town of Nahariya, causing damage but no injuries, hospital officials said. The rocket shattered a window and scorched its frame.

The United Nations decided to remove 50 observers from the Israeli-Lebanon border, locating them instead at posts with 2,000 lightly armed U.N. peacekeepers. The move comes days after Israeli bombs hit a U.N. observer station, killing four.

Also, the United States evacuated about 500 more U.S. citizens from Beirut aboard a chartered cruise ship, believed to the last U.S.-organized mass departure for Americans. Some 15,000 U.S. citizens have now left Lebanon.

The European Union said it has finished evacuating most of its 20,000 citizens who wanted to leave Lebanon, and will now help evacuate nationals of poorer, non-EU countries.

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis emerged on several fronts. U.S. allies pressed Washington to speed efforts to secure a cease-fire in the crisis, which erupted after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid July 12, sparking Israel's harsh retaliation.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, attending a regional security conference in Malaysia, announced plans to return to the Middle East after visits to Lebanon and Israel earlier in the week. Israeli media said she will arrive in Israel on Saturday night and meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday. There was no word on whether she would come to Beirut.

Rice has argued against an immediate truce, calling for a more "enduring" arrangement that would end Hezbollah's control of southern Lebanon and diminish the influence of Syria and Iran in Lebanon's affairs.

During a meeting Wednesday in Rome, Rice faced strong demand from European governments for fighting to end now, but a lack of consensus won more time for Israel's military campaign. 

President Bush has suggested he would support the offensive for as long as it takes to cripple Hezbollah. He also sharply condemned Iran for giving the guerrillas military support — a charge Tehran denied Friday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed to Washington for a summit with Bush. Blair's spokesman said the prime minister would seek a U.N. resolution on the Mideast crisis.

Blair wants to speed the pace of diplomacy aimed at a cease-fire and the formation of an international force for south Lebanon. Hezbollah guerrillas have long been in control of the region, in violation of a previous U.N. resolution.

In France, President Jacques Chirac said his country will press for the rapid adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, his office said.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced it used a new rocket, the Khaibar-1 — named after a famed battle between Islam's prophet Muhammad and Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula — to strike the northern Israeli town of Afula. Guerrilla rockets have hit near town before, but this attack was the deepest yet.

Israeli police said five rockets hit outside Afula but caused no injuries.

The strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed his guerrillas would fire rockets beyond Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, which has been hit repeatedly in the conflict.

The group did not specify the range of the new rocket or give other details. But Israeli police said it was the first time a missile of this type has hit Israel and that it carried 220 pounds of explosives. That is about the size of the payload of the Fajr-3 rocket that Hezbollah has fired previously, but the Fajr-3 is not believed to have the range to hit Afula.

The heaviest known Hezbollah rocket is the Fajr-5, with a 440-pound payload and a range of 45 miles, able to hit Tel Aviv's northern outskirts.

Late Thursday and early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck 130 targets in Lebanon, including a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, where long-range rockets were stored, 57 Hezbollah structures, six missile-launching sites and six communication facilities, Israel said.

The bombardment — along with artillery pounding the south — often hit populated areas and caused casualties.

One airstrike flattened a house in the village of Hadatha, and six people inside were believed dead or wounded, the Lebanese state news agency reported. Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said all six were dead.

Missiles fired by Israeli jets also destroyed three buildings in the village of Kfar Jouz near the market town of Nabatiyeh. A Jordanian was killed with a Lebanese couple when their shelter collapsed, Lebanese security officials said.

Nine people, including children, were wounded in the raid, which apparently targeted an apartment belonging to a Hezbollah activist. Civil defense teams in Kfar Jouz struggled to rescue people believed buried under the rubble of a collapsed three-story structure, witnesses said.

Three women were killed in strikes on their homes in southern villages of Talouseh, Sheitiyeh and Bazouriyeh — Nasrallah's hometown, security officials said.

Israel fired more than 40 artillery shells at the village of Arnoun just outside Nabatiyeh, next to the Crusader-era Beaufort Castle, which has a commanding view of the border area, witnesses said. Israeli artillery also hit a convoy evacuating villagers from Rmeish, lightly wounding a driver and a Lebanese cameraman for German TV news.

At least 443 people have been killed in Lebanon in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to a Health Ministry count Thursday based on bodies taken to hospitals, plus deaths Friday confirmed by security forces. But Lebanon's health minister estimated Thursday that as many as Lebanese 600 civilians have been killed, with other victims buried in rubble.

On the Israeli side, 33 soldiers have died in fighting, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians, the Israeli army said.

The army said Friday that Israeli troops have killed about 200 Hezbollah guerrillas, but Hezbollah has reported only 35 casualties.

This week brought intense ground fighting in a small pocket in southeast Lebanon, with Israeli troops centered on the town of Bint Jbail and nearby Maroun al-Ras village.

Israeli troops on Friday appeared to have pulled back from some positions around Bint Jbail, said an official with U.N. peacekeepers, Richard Morczynski. He did not have details on the extent of pullback.

Bint Jbail was the site of the worst Israeli casualties in a single battle of the campaign, with nine soldiers killed in and near the town Wednesday.

Also, Hezbollah said its guerrillas attacked Israeli troops in Maroun al-Ras, though there was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.

"At exactly 1 p.m., the Islamic Resistance staged a surprise attack on Israeli tanks and emplacements on Masoud hilltop and Maroun al-Ras with various kinds of weapons, inflicting confirmed casualties," according to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV.

Masoud hilltop overlooks Bint Jbail, which Israeli troops started besieging Sunday. The town has the largest Shiite community along the border; it was known as the "capital of the resistance" during Israel's 1982-2000 occupation because of its vehement support for the Shiite Hezbollah.

Guerrillas on Friday also fired 14 rockets at northern Israeli towns including Ma'alot, Karmiel and Safed, the Israeli army said. No casualties were reported.


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