- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

TEL AVIV — More than 100 rockets rained down across northern Israel yesterday, killing eight persons in an intense fusillade, as Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened to strike Tel Aviv with long-range rockets if central Beirut is damaged.

Hezbollah pounded the Israeli cities of Acre and Maalot with 100 rockets launched within minutes of each other. The eight Israeli civilians killed matched the highest daily toll since the war began.

However a rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, would mark a major escalation of Hezbollah’s war effort. Israeli television quoted a senior military official saying Israel would destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure if that happened.

Israeli ground troops suffered the deaths of four soldiers as they advanced deeper into southern Lebanon, pushing five miles into the country against fierce Hezbollah resistance. A senior military source told The Washington Times that Israel must drive Hezbollah fighters north of Lebanon’s Litani River in order to eliminate the threat from an estimated 10,000 short-range rockets that remain in the militia’s arsenal after three weeks of fighting.

“In order to stop the firing we need a major ground offensive,” the source said. At issue is whether the army should seize a narrower 6-mile-deep buffer like the one it held before withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 or go farther north.

Sheik Nasrullah, in a message aired from a secret location, said Hezbollah fighters all but welcomed a full-scale invasion

“We are fighting a guerilla war. Our policy is not to hang onto geography. … It is beneficial for us to allow them to advance to the entrances to villages — this is our goal. Our goal is to inflict maximum casualties and damage to the capabilities of the enemy, and we are succeeding,” he said.

In issuing the threat, Sheik Nasrullah also hinted at a compromise to end the war, which has killed more than 500 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and more than 50 Israelis.

“Anytime you decide to stop your campaign against our cities, villages, civilians and infrastructure, we will not fire rockets on any Israeli settlement or city,” he said, according to a dispatch filed by the Associated Press.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said more than 1 million people, a quarter of Lebanon’s population, have been displaced.

The fighting “is taking an enormous toll on human life and infrastructure, and has totally ravaged our country and shattered our economy,” he said.

Israel resumed bombing attacks on southern suburbs of Beirut yesterday. Israeli jets also dropped leaflets, warning residents to evacuate three Shi’ite neighborhoods.

The army said it had deployed five brigades, or about 10,000 troops, which had taken up positions in or near 11 towns and villages across south Lebanon.

In the border village of Taibeh, an Israeli missile crashed into a two-story house, killing a couple and their daughter, Lebanese security officials said.

The prospect of a longer war already has raised tensions across the Mideast, where anti-Israeli and anti-American hostility runs high.

In Malaysia, leaders of key countries in the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a declaration calling for a U.N.-implemented cease-fire and warning that the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting would increase Muslim radicalism worldwide.

Although Israel says it doesn’t want to remain in southern Lebanon, the establishment of even a temporary security zone risks miring Israel’s army in a more permanent occupation.

“What is the essence of the security zone? That you stay for some time,” said Yuval Steinitz, a parliament member and former chairman of the foreign affairs and defense committee.

Mr. Steinitz expressed concern that a narrow security zone would leave Israeli soldiers in an area full of Hezbollah fighters.

The hawkish parliament member said it would be preferable for the Israeli army to withdraw to the international border instead of leaving soldiers in a narrow strip to stare at militants perched on the next hilltop.

“This is a recipe for disaster. Either you chose a logical defensive line, and you clean the territory you stay in, or you go back to the international border,” Mr. Steinitz said.

But because Hezbollah could fire rockets at Israel from beyond the Litani, even a deep security zone would offer Israel no strategic advantage, said Michael Oren, the author of a book on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The value of a security zone, he said, is more tactical, giving Israel something to give away once an international force is deployed. The other effect is psychological, he said. “It proves that Israel can drive Hezbollah out of the Lebanese heartland.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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