- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

BEIRUT — Israeli warplanes destroyed four key bridges on Lebanon’s last untouched highway yesterday, severing the country’s final major connection to Syria and deepening its isolation.

Hezbollah launched its deepest rocket strike inside Israel to date, hitting near a town 50 miles south of the Lebanese border, police said. At least 190 rockets rained down on other towns, killing four civilians, three of them Arabs.

Aircraft on a mission to destroy weapons caches hit a refrigerated warehouse where farm workers were loading vegetables, killing at least 28 near the Lebanon-Syria border.

At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said the United States and France have “come a long way” in negotiating a Security Council resolution that calls for an immediate end to Middle East hostilities.

U.N. officials said negotiators were ready to work through the weekend and hoped to have an agreement by early next week.

Israel pressed its ground offensive in southern Lebanon as its attacks on the main north-south coastal highway linking Beirut to Syria cut the only remaining major road link between the two countries.

The drive to the Syrian border takes twice the time — at least three hours — on the small coastal road that remains open.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, staunchly pro-Syrian and a close ally of Hezbollah, charged that Israel is trying to pressure Lebanon to accept conditions for a cease-fire that include Hezbollah’s disarmament and ouster from a swath of south Lebanon.

“The Israeli enemy’s bombing of bridges and roads is aimed at tightening the blockade on the Lebanese, cutting communications between them and starving them,” Mr. Lahoud said.

He blamed the new raids on Israel’s failure to win a quick victory in the south, where Israeli soldiers have been mired in ground battles with Hezbollah fighters for several days.

An Israeli army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said Israel targeted the bridges to stop the flow of weapons from Syria.

In Israel, no casualties were immediately reported in the Hezbollah attack near the town of Hadera, about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv, the nation’s commercial center.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to hit Tel Aviv if Israeli warplanes hit the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Israel resumed air strikes on Beirut Thursday, after first targeting the city at the beginning of the war.

Hezbollah is believed to have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, but such an attack would likely trigger a massive Israeli response.

More Israeli air strikes flattened two southern Lebanese houses yesterday and at least 50 persons were buried in the rubble, security officials and the state news agency said.

The number of dead was not immediately known.

Five Lebanese civilians were killed and 19 wounded in the Israeli air strikes north of the capital, in Christian areas where Hezbollah has little support or presence, including the picturesque coastal resort of Jounieh.

In separate air raids near Beirut’s airport and southern suburbs, a Lebanese soldier was killed and two soldiers and four civilians were wounded, security officials and witnesses said.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile during heavy fighting in a southern Lebanese village where the militant group had been launching rockets, the army said. It later said another soldier had died.

International aid agencies said yesterday that the road bombing would slow down aid shipments to needy civilians in central Lebanon and the coast around Beirut, where the bulk of the population lives.

Border crossings in the east have been shut by air strikes. Israel has imposed a naval blockade and has hit the international airport to seal off Lebanon’s sea access and airspace.

“This is Lebanon’s umbilical cord,” Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Program told the Associated Press. “This [road] has been the only way for us to bring in aid. We really need to find other ways to bring relief in.”

Emergency services at the al-Qusair National Hospital on the Lebanese-Syrian border and the National Hospital in the Syrian city of Homs said at least 28 persons were killed in the farm attack near al-Qaa, a town about six miles from a Hezbollah stronghold.

Ali Yaghi, a Lebanese civil defense official at the scene, said at least 12 workers were wounded and some were likely buried under rubble.

The Israeli army said it had attacked two buildings where it suspected weapons were being stored, and it was checking reports that it had hit a vegetable storehouse and civilians.

On the second front of its offensive against Islamic militants, Israel began pulling tanks out of southern Gaza after a two-day incursion that killed 11 Palestinians, including an 8-year-old boy.

The fighting in Gaza, which began June 25 after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid, has killed a total of 175 Palestinians, the U.N. reported, adding that it was concerned that “with international attention focusing on Lebanon, the tragedy in Gaza is being forgotten.”

The offensive in Lebanon began after another cross-border raid by Hezbollah militants who captured two Israeli soldiers.

More than 500 Lebanese have been killed, mostly civilians.

Seventy-five Israelis have been killed — 44 soldiers and 31 civilians.

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