July 16, 2006

Hizbollah rockets hit Haifa

By Alaa Shahine

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hizbollah rockets killed eight people in
the Israeli city of Haifa on Sunday and bombs shook Beirut as
Israel pursued a five-day-old assault in Lebanon aimed at
crippling the Shi'ite Muslim group.

It was Hizbollah's deadliest rocket strike on Israel and
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it would have
"far-reaching" consequences for Lebanon.

Hizbollah said the attack was retaliation for Israel's
killing of civilians and destruction of Lebanese

Medics said 20 people were also wounded in Haifa, Israel's
third-largest city, which was hit by about 20 rockets,
including one that struck a railway station causing most of the
casualties. Blood was smeared on smashed train compartments.

Israel's campaign in Lebanon, launched after Hizbollah
captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday,
has killed 112 people, all but four of them civilians.

It has drawn only a mild plea for restraint from the United
States, which blames Hizbollah and its allies, Syria and Iran.

President Bush, speaking at a G8 summit in Russia,
characterized Israel's actions as self-defense and did not back
Lebanon's pleas for an immediate ceasefire.

"Our message to Israel is defend yourself but be mindful of
the consequences, so we are urging restraint," said Bush.

Lebanon said Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi had
relayed Israeli conditions for a ceasefire.

"Prodi told me that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
informed him of two demands for a ceasefire -- handing over the
two captive Israeli soldiers and a Hizbollah pullback to behind
the Litani river," a government statement quoted Prime Minister
Fouad Siniora as telling the cabinet.

An Italian government source confirmed the demands and said
Prodi was acting as a "go-between." The Litani river is around
20 km (12 miles) north of the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Bombs crashed into Beirut's Shi'ite southern suburbs in
raids which set fire to Hizbollah's al-Manar television complex
and nearby buildings, witnesses said. The station's signal
disappeared briefly several times before returning.


The United States earlier blocked any move by the U.N.
Security Council to demand a ceasefire, saying the focus for
diplomacy should be the G8 summit in St Petersburg.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had told
Olmert her country was deeply concerned about civilian
casualties in Lebanon and hoped Israel would exercise

But she said a ceasefire demanded by Siniora would not work
unless it addressed the cause of the problem, which Washington
says is Hizbollah violence supported by Syria and Iran.

French President Jacques Chirac called for a ceasefire.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed the U.S. line.

Syria promised what Information Minister Mohsen Bilal
called a "harsh and direct" response to any attack by Israel.

At least eight civilians were killed and 50 wounded in air
strikes in south Lebanon on Sunday, security sources said.

Hundreds of Hizbollah rockets have killed a total of 12
people in Israel in five days.

Hizbollah said it had used "Raad (Thunder) 2 and Raad 3"
rockets against Haifa. A senior political source said Israel's
army chief, Dan Halutz, had told a cabinet meeting "Some of the
missiles were probably produced by Syria."


Israel raised the alert level in Tel Aviv, some 130 km (80
miles) south of Lebanon, as a precaution. Halutz has said
Hizbollah has rockets with a range of 70 km and possibly

Israel's bombing campaign, which has laid waste Lebanon's
vital installations, is its most destructive assault since its
1982 invasion to expel Palestinian guerrillas from Lebanon.

Israel has said Lebanon must implement a U.N. resolution
demanding the disarming of Hizbollah, a Shi'ite group formed in
1982 to fight an Israeli occupation that lasted 22 years.

But the Beirut government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition,
lacks the unity and firepower to tackle Hizbollah.

The group has said it wants to swap the two captured
Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in

Israel's campaign in Lebanon followed the launch of an
offensive in the Gaza Strip on June 28 to try to retrieve
another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Israel widened that assault on Sunday, killing a
Palestinian civilian in southern Gaza and three militants in
the north.

The operation has piled pressure on the Palestinian
government led by the Islamist militant Hamas movement, which
demands a prisoner swap for the Israeli corporal.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Lin Noueihed and
Nadim Ladki in Beirut, Khaled Yaacoub Oweis in Damascus, the
Jerusalem bureau, David Clarke, Steve Holland and Sophie Louet
in St Petersburg)