- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

TEL AVIV — Hezbollah rockets struck deep inside Israel yesterday, killing eight persons in Haifa and threatening the biblical town of Nazareth, while Israel renewed its attacks on the Beirut airport and killed at least 40 in strikes across southern Lebanon.

The United States and other countries scrambled to evacuate their nationals from Lebanon, with U.S. forces transporting 21 Americans out of the country. An Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon killed seven members of a Canadian family.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned there would be “far-reaching consequences” for the attack on Haifa, one of several that demonstrated Hezbollah’s newfound ability to strike more than 25 miles inside Israel. Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah boasted of more “surprises” to come.

Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing the rockets and charged that Iran had about 200 Revolutionary Guard “cells” working alongside Hezbollah to fire the missiles, raising fears of a wider war. He said the missiles may have been provided before the latest outbreak.

On the diplomatic front, emissaries from the United Nations and European Union arrived in Beirut, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was mulling a trip, news agencies said. Israel forwarded through an Italian mediator its demands for the Lebanese government to end the crisis.

The crisis began on Wednesday when Hezbollah guerrillas staged a daring cross-border raid, killing three Israeli soldiers and abducting two others. Many think the action was intended as an act of solidarity with the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which kidnapped an Israeli soldier near the Gaza Strip border in June.

Yesterday’s rocket strike on Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, was the deadliest Hezbollah attack to date, hitting a train-repair depot in the middle of the day and leaving a pool of blood on the tracks as it killed eight and seriously injured six. About 30 rockets hit near the city during the day.

“The missiles they fired came from Syria, from the Syrian arsenal,” Mr. Peres said on CNN. “The Iranians have supplied the land-to-sea missiles as well, as there are 200 other cells of the Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon helping Hezbollah to fight Israel.”

Last night, rockets fell for the first time in the Israeli cities of Nazareth, Ilit and Afula, the deepest strikes to date from Lebanon. The Israeli army home-front command put civilians as far south as Tel Aviv on varying levels of alert.

“This is going to be a difficult war,” acknowledged Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief of staff. “There will be more days of rockets.”

The transportation minister said Israel was in the initial stages of an operation aimed at neutralizing Hezbollah’s military infrastructure, while Mr. Olmert pledged not to be intimidated by the group’s threat to widen its attack on Israel.

Israel is demanding that Lebanon deploy its army throughout the south, where Hezbollah now is the only effective military power.

Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets throughout the region calling for residents to evacuate their villages. At least 16 persons were killed in an Israeli air strike Saturday while driving north in response to an evacuation order.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora called yesterday for the international community to force a cease-fire.

“The gates of hell have been opened on Lebanon. And there is a series of mad behavior and mass killing that is happening in Lebanon,” he told CNN.

“Practically, they are cutting the whole country into pieces, and they are bringing the country onto its knees, and hundreds of people are being killed and injured.”

Two U.S. Marine Corps helicopters evacuated 21 Americans from Lebanon to Cyprus after security teams arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to plan for the evacuation of as many as 25,000 U.S. nationals. About 350 foreign nationals — most of them European — were evacuated over the weekend by Italian military aircraft, the Associated Press reported.

A cruise ship capable of carrying 1,000 to 2,000 passengers has been hired by France and was scheduled to arrive today, Reuters news agency said. France and Norway also hired a ferry, which can take up to 650 people.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said his government was putting commercial ships in place to evacuate its citizens. Seven Canadians from the same Montreal family, including four young children, were killed in Lebanon yesterday when Israeli aircraft bombed a house in the south of the country, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

A fresh wave of Israeli air raids last night left 17 persons dead, including nine Lebanese soldiers killed in a raid on a military intelligence base, police said. Israeli jets also launched nine raids in less than a quarter of an hour on the town of Baalbeck, a bastion of Hezbollah, killing three civilians and wounding six others.

Israel has sought to shut down Lebanon by enforcing a naval and air blockade of the country. Yesterday, Israeli planes struck a fuel reserve at the Beirut airport. The runway had been bombed twice in the past week.

Sheik Nasrallah appeared on television yesterday after speculation that he had been killed in Israel’s bombing of Hezbollah’s headquarters in southern Beirut.

“Like we surprise them in the sea, like we surprised them in Haifa, we will surprise them beyond Haifa. I promise you we will surprise them on the ground,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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