July 14, 2006

Hizbollah chief defiant after Israel bombs home

By Alistair Lyon, Middle East Correspondent

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hizbollah's chief pledged open war on
Israel after it bombed his Beirut home on Friday in a dramatic
expansion of an assault in Lebanon launched after Hizbollah
fighters seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight.

"You wanted open war. We are going to (wage) open war," he
said," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a telephone message
broadcast live on Hizbollah television after the attack.

He said an Israeli navy ship was ablaze off the coast of
Beirut. Lebanese security sources said two rockets had hit it.

The Israeli army said the vessel had been lightly damaged
in an attack from the shore. Israeli TV said no one was hurt.

"Look at it burn," Nasrallah had declared in his address.
"It will sink and along with it dozens of Zionist soldiers."

Celebratory gunfire erupted in the Lebanese capital and
drivers honked their horns after Nasrallah's speech.

The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Islamist group, which wants
to trade its captives for prisoners held in Israel, fired more
rockets across the frontier, killing an Israeli woman and

Israeli air strikes destroyed Nasrallah's apartment
building and a main Hizbollah office in southern Beirut.
Hizbollah said Nasrallah and his family and bodyguards were
safe and sound.

An Israeli army spokeswoman would not say if the intention
had been to kill Nasrallah. "We targeted by air the
headquarters of Hizbollah in southern Beirut. We attacked two
structures that are used by the leadership of Hizbollah," she


Israel also attacked many Lebanese civilian installations
on the third day of its campaign to force the release of the
two Israeli soldiers and halt cross-border rocket strikes.

The assault has drawn mounting international criticism but
the White House said President Bush would not press Israel to
halt its military operation.

Asked whether Bush had agreed to a request from Lebanese
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that he rein in the Israelis,
White House spokesman Tony Snow said: "No. The president is not
going to make military decisions for Israel."

The Lebanon violence is the fiercest since 1996 when Israel
launched a 17-day blitz on Hizbollah strongholds in the south,
four years before its troops pulled out of Lebanon.

Israeli aircraft rocketed runways at Beirut's already
closed international airport and bombed a flyover just to the

Israeli warplanes blasted the main Beirut-Damascus highway
overnight, tightening an air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon,
and bombed targets in Beirut's teeming Shi'ite Muslim suburbs,
killing three people and wounding 40, security sources said.

Air strikes in south Lebanon killed five more people.

Their deaths brought to 66 the number of people, almost all
civilians, killed in Lebanon in the past three days.

Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have now killed
four Israelis and wounded more than 150.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said such
salvos "cannot and will not be allowed to continue."

Snow told reporters that Bush had spoken by telephone to
Lebanon's prime minister among other Middle East leaders.

He said Bush believed the Israelis had the right to protect
themselves, but should avoid civilian casualties and damage.


Israel holds Lebanon responsible for the actions of
Hizbollah, a political-military faction which has members in
parliament and in Siniora's mainly anti-Syrian cabinet.

The fragile Beirut government, too divided to disarm
Hizbollah or extend its own control to the border, urged the
U.N. Security Council to tell Israel to halt its onslaught.

It asked the Council to impose a ceasefire, but Israel said
it was trying to free its neighbor from terrorist occupation
and insisted the Beirut government secretly backed its actions.

Strong criticism of Israel came from France and the
Vatican, as well as Egypt, Jordan and other countries.

The violence in Lebanon coincided with an Israeli incursion
into the Gaza Strip launched last month to try to retrieve
another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Israel bombed offices of Hamas lawmakers, destroyed a
bridge and fired a tank shell that killed a Palestinian on

Israeli forces withdrew overnight from central Gaza after
two days of fighting, but did not rule out going back in.

Palestinian gunmen blew a huge hole in the border wall
between Gaza and Egypt, allowing hundreds of Gazans who had
been stranded on the closed border for two weeks to enter the

Since the Gaza offensive was launched on June 28, Israel
has killed more than 80 Palestinians, a majority of them

(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki, Lin Noueihed, Alaa
Shahine and Laila Bassam, and the Jerusalem bureau)