Hezbollah and Israel traded fierce barrages for a sixth day Monday, as the latest eruption of warfare in the Middle East showed no sign of easing. Rockets struck deep inside Israel, killing eight people in Haifa, and Israeli planes bombed Lebanon from north to south.
The toll on both sides rose to more than 200. In addition to the Israeli victims at a rail repair facility in the Haifa attack on Sunday, an Israeli rocket blew up a Lebanese army position, killing eight soldiers, and a sea-launched missile killed at least nine people in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre.
Israel warned of massive retaliation after the Haifa attack, and accused Iran and Syria of providing the weaponry used in it. Israeli military officials said four of the missiles were the Iranian-made Fajr-3, with a 22-mile range and 200-pound payload, and far more advanced than the Katyusha rockets the guerrillas rained on northern Israel in previous attacks.
Foreigners began to flee by the hundreds and several nations drew up plans to get their citizens out. U.S. planners arrived to organize evacuation for any of the 25,000 Americans seeking to leave. Two Marine Corps helicopters evacuated 21 Americans to Cyprus on Sunday.
Italian military flights rushed out some 350 people, mostly Europeans. France, which has more than 20,000 citizens in Lebanon, chartered a Greek ferry expected to pick up some 1,200 people on Monday.
Early Monday, witnesses reported that waves of Israeli airstrikes hit the Lebanese city of Tripoli and Hezbollah strongholds in eastern town of Baalbek. Missiles apparently aiming at a relay station for Hezbollah’s al-Manar television missed their target and hit a house south of Beirut. Police said four villagers were killed and 10 wounded. Lebanese police said the village had been hit by missiles fired from Israeli warships, but the Israeli military denied gunboats had participated in the bombings.
Israeli missiles hit the Lebanese capital shortly after sunrise Monday, as three loud explosions rocked the southern suburbs while another strike sparked a large fire in Beirut’s port, witnesses said.
Eight Lebanese army soldiers were killed Sunday and 12 wounded in an Israeli airstrike in the fishing village of Abdeh in northern Lebanon.
Israel, technically at war with Lebanon since 1948, said it had targeted radar stations in the north because Hezbollah had used them to hit an Israeli ship on Friday. It all but accused the Lebanese military of lending its support to Hezbollah.
“The attacks ... are against radar stations used, among other things, in the attack on the Israeli missile boat, by Hezbollah in cooperation with the Lebanese military,” an Israeli army spokesman told The Associated Press.
World leaders meeting in St. Petersburg produced a draft framework to end the crisis and a U.N. envoy landed in Beirut. The Group of Eight most industrialized nations expressed concern over “rising civilian casualties on all sides” and urged both sides to stop their attacks.
“These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict,” the G-8 leaders said in a statement. “The extremists must immediately halt their attacks.”
The United Nations, the European Union and Italy also pushed ahead with separate efforts Sunday to try to end the fighting. But both Israel and Hezbollah signaled that their attacks would only intensify.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed “far-reaching consequences” for the Haifa attack, Hezbollah’s deadliest strike ever on Israel. The morning barrage of 20 rockets came after Israeli warplanes unleashed their heaviest strikes yet on Beirut, flattening apartment buildings and blowing up a power station to cut electricity to swaths of the capital.
Even before the latest Israeli retaliation, Israeli airstrikes had devastated southern Beirut, a teeming Shiite district that is home to Hezbollah’s main headquarters.
The Jiyeh power plant, on Beirut’s southern outskirts, was in flames after it was hit, cutting electricity to many areas in the capital and south Lebanon. Firefighters pleaded for help from residents after saying they didn’t have enough water to put out the blaze.
Some residents of Beirut’s southern Shiite neighborhood, Dahiyah, ventured out of shelters to collect belongings from their shattered city blocks, where buildings were collapsed on their sides, missing top floors or reduced to pancaked concrete. Many emerged from their destroyed apartments with bulging shopping bags or suitcases as young Hezbollah gunmen urged them to leave quickly.
Dust and rubble
Large swaths of Beirut were covered with dust, and the city of 1.5 million people was emptying as residents fled. Furniture pieces, blankets, mattresses, clothes and soft toys were scattered on the streets. A copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, lay in the street with its dusty pages fluttering until a Hezbollah gunman reverently lifted it and kissed it.
“We want to sleep on our own pillows in the shelter,” Mariam Shihabiyah, a 39-year-old mother of five said as she emerged from her home with an armful of pillows and clothes. “Can you believe what happened to Dahiyah?”
The Israeli military warned residents of south Lebanon to flee, promising heavy retaliation after the Haifa assault. “Nothing will deter us,” Olmert said.
Along with the Lebanon attacks, Israel attacked along the second front where Israel is fighting, in Gaza. Fighter jets bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza City, and clouds of smoke rose from the building, which has been hit before. At least nine people in nearby houses were injured, rescue workers said.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said that despite the barrage, the guerrillas were “in their full strength and power” and that their “missile stockpiles are still full.”
“When the Zionists behave like there are no rules and no red lines and no limits to the confrontation, it is our right to behave in the same way,” a tired-looking but defiant Nasrallah said in a televised address. He said Hezbollah hit Haifa because of Israel’s strikes on Lebanese civilians.
Nasrallah tried to rally the Arab world around Hezbollah, saying the battle was an opportunity to deal Israel a “historic defeat.” Iran and Syria are prime supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas, raising fears the sides could be drawn into a regional war.
Still, they denied Israel’s claim that they had provided advanced missile technology to Hezbollah.
Smoke rose over Haifa and air raid sirens wailed as the dead and wounded were evacuated from a train station warehouse full of workers that took a direct hit in the strike, just one hour into the new work week. Orthodox rescue crews worked their way through the debris gathering pieces of flesh amid pools of blood.
Elsewhere in the port city of 270,000, residents huddled in bomb shelters or stocked up on milk, bread and other staples.
“It’s a war, it’s an emergency situation and it will get worse,” said Sharon Goldstein, a 34-year-old security guard.
In an initial response soon after, Israeli warplanes hit south Beirut around Hezbollah’s headquarters, already reduced to rubble. In the southern port of Tyre, an Israeli missile tore off the top of a 12-story building, killing at least nine. Rescue workers pulled bodies from the crushed concrete.
Seven Canadians of Lebanese origin, including several members of the same Montreal family, were killed by an Israeli strike on their village in the south where they’d come for a summer visit, Canada’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ambra Dickie said. Earlier reports had said eight were killed.
After nightfall, Israeli missiles destroyed fuel depots at Beirut’s airport.
Hezbollah retaliated with rockets that exploded in the Israeli towns of Afula and Upper Nazareth, showing a longer range than previous barrages. A rocket exploded near an air force base in northern Israel overnight. There were no immediate reports of casualties in those attacks.
Waves of missiles wounded eight soldiers in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and a major northern port. Tyre and another southern port city, Sidon, also came under renewed attack. Some 40 people had been wounded in the raids early Monday.
Western nations clearly expected a drawn-out fight even as diplomatic efforts began in earnest.
In Beirut, Vijay Nambiar, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special political adviser, met Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. “Enough innocent lives have been lost and property infrastructure has been damaged,” Nambiar said.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana also met with Saniora on Sunday.
Syria warned on Sunday that any aggression against it “will be met with a firm and direct response whose timing and methods are unlimited.” Hundreds of cars drove through Damascus on Sunday night with drivers and passengers waving Syrian and Hezbollah flags and honking horns.
Iran threatened “unimaginable damage” to Israel if Syria were attacked, and its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Hezbollah was winning its fight against Israel and would not disarm. Iran’s foreign minister headed to Damascus late Sunday for talks.