- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

TEL AVIV — Hezbollah launched its deadliest and longest-range rocket near the northern Israeli town of Afula yesterday, while Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded targets in Lebanon.

Hezbollah broadcast a video of the launching of new Khaibar-1 rocket — named after a battle between Islam’s prophet Muhammad and Jewish tribes on the Arabian Peninsula.

No one was hurt in the rocket attack, but the weapon struck deeper than any other rocket fired during the 17-day war.

“We are witnessing a new move of Hezbollah that is operating more aggressively,” said Dan Ronen, the northern district commander of the Israeli police.

Hezbollah’s launching of the new weapon unnerved Israelis, 500,000 of whom are already living in northern shelters because of rocket bombardments, according to the Associated Press. The rocket firing also was likely to escalate a conflict now in its 18th day, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heading back to the Middle East this weekend to make a second attempt to resolve the crisis.

“With this, the Islamic resistance begins a new stage of fighting, challenge and confrontation with a strong determination and full belief in God’s victory,” Hezbollah said.

Israel said the Khaibar-1 rockets were renamed, Iranian-made Fajr-5s. They have four times the power and range of Katyusha rockets, or about 50 miles.

An estimated 96 Katyusha rockets struck northern Israel yesterday, causing few civilian casualties but hitting the Western Galilee hospital in Nahariya.

U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland called for a 72-hour break in the fighting to evacuate civilians and to allow medicines and food to reach affected areas.

The U.N. also said it was moving about 50 unarmed observers from posts along the border to positions occupied by lightly armed U.N. forces.

Fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli soldiers continued near the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed militia.

The Israeli army said late in the day that it killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas in the Bint Jbeil fighting. The army had no comment on Israeli casualties, but Israel Radio reported six Israeli soldiers were wounded.

Two days ago, nine Israeli soldiers were killed near the town.

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. A reported 15,000 U.S. citizens have now left Lebanon.

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

Late Thursday and early yesterday, 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 bombing — along with artillery pounding the south — often hit populated areas and caused casualties. One air strike flattened a house in the village of Hadatha, and six persons 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 persons, 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 — hometown of Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah — security officials told the AP.

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, witnesses said.

Israeli artillery also hit a convoy evacuating villagers from Romish, lightly wounding an Arab driver and a cameraman for German TV news.

At least 443 persons have been killed in Lebanon in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to a Health Ministry count. Up to 200 people are believed to be buried in the rubble, Lebanon’s health minister estimated Thursday.

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 International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday it had not received any response so far to its request to visit two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas.

The July 12 abductions triggered the fighting with Lebanon.

In the Gaza Strip, where another Israeli soldier was abducted earlier, Israel ended a two-day battle yesterday, pulling out its tanks and troops.

As many as 29 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli incursion, including two persons yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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