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Israeli U.S. Ambassador: Iran, Syria 'Playing with Fire'


Danny Ayalon, Israel's U.S. ambassador, charged that Iran and Syria are "playing with fire" by coordinating attacks in northern and southern Israel. Speaking to reporters in Washington, Ayalon said that it was not a coincidence that Hizbullah terrorists attacked the north and kidnapped two IDF soldiers three weeks after Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier on its border with Gaza.

Israeli Jets Bomb Main Road Between Beirut and Damascus

By Israel News Faxx Services

Israeli warplanes struck the highway linking Beirut to the Syrian capital of Damascus early Friday, closing the country's main artery and further isolating Lebanon from the outside world, Lebanese security officials said.

Fighter jets attacked a highway section high in the mountains of central Lebanon, in Mdeirej. But the targeted area was an old road extension, and the bridge on the nearby main highway remained intact, the officials said.

Another air strike apparently targeted the main bridge's exit. Authorities turned back motorists, who will have to take long detours through other winding mountain roads. Because of the darkness, it was not immediately clear the extent of damage on the main highway. Authorities said they were turning back motorists as a precautionary measure. The Israeli military has confirmed it attacked the highway.

The highway, which climbs up from Beirut, winds through the mountains before descending into the Bekaa Valley and into Syria, is one of Lebanon's only links with the outside world since Israeli forces imposed a sea, air and land blockade of Lebanon on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, Israel blasted the runways and fuel tanks of Beirut's only international airport for a second time, Lebanese security officials said, while Israel's third-largest city Haifa was hit by two Hizbullah long-range missiles in what officials are now calling a full-fledged war.

A helicopter gunship raked the fuel depots with machine gunfire, while three others fired air-to-surface missiles, the officials added, and TV news video showed flames shooting up from the airport.

Israeli planes also dropped leaflets on Hizbullah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburb near the airport, where its main leaders are based, calling on residents to avoid areas where Hizbullah operates.

"For your own safety and out of our wish to avoid harming the civilians who are not involved, you should refrain from being present in areas where Hizbullah exists and operates," said the leaflets signed the State of Israel.

The strike on Haifa is the deepest into Israel so far in what an Israeli official called a "major, major escalation" in the ongoing battle between Lebanon and Israel.

Hizbullah terrorists had threatened such a strike on this city, deep within Israel's border, if Israel targeted Beirut or its southern suburbs, but the group denied responsibility for the Thursday attack. Hizbullah fired the long-range missile at Haifa Thursday evening. Tzfat, Nahariya and Carmiel were struck again as well. A Tzfat resident died of his wounds. Hizbullah fired a long-range missile at the major Israeli port city of Haifa Thursday evening. Tzfat, Nahariya and Carmiel were struck again as well. A Tzfat resident died of his wounds. Twenty people were also injured in the Tzfat attack. Throughout Thursday, nearly 100 Katyusha missiles were fired at various towns and cities in northern Israel, injuring 90 people and killing two.

In another providential development, the three-day klezmer music festival, which saw Tzfat packed with tens of thousands of visitors, also came to a close less than 40 hours prior to the attack.

Avraham, a caller to IsraelNationalRadio, said he was sitting in his bomb shelter in Tzfat and refused to leave the holy city, despite offers from his son to pick him up and bring him out of range of the rocket fire. "I left New York for Tzfat because God told us this is where we are supposed to live," he said. "I am not going to leave because of some missiles."

President Bush defended Israel's attacks in Lebanon but worried they could weaken or topple the fragile government in Beirut. "Israel has a right to defend herself," Bush said at a news conference in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life."

Earlier Thursday rockets fired in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya hit a group of journalists, injuring at least one person. An Associated Press photographer was standing with the group when the rocket hit, but was not injured.

Eleven people were wounded lightly by shrapnel in the attack on Nahariya. One rocket hit a multi-level apartment house and a second destroyed a house. Residents have been ordered to remain in shelters and a small fire raged for over an hour in one of the town's parks.

Rockets also hit Rosh Pina and Hatzor. Residents of northern Israel were instructed to spend the night in bomb shelters, while residents in the Haifa region were instructed, due to lack of shelters, to find rooms with no outside walls or windows to sleep in.

Israeli warplanes attacked a Lebanese Rayak army air base near the Syrian border in eastern Bekaa Valley, the first strike on the Lebanese army in Israel's fight with Hizbullah terrorists that started after Hizbullah took two Israeli solders captive in a bid to free Lebanese prisoners.

Caught in the middle of the fight, the Lebanese government asked the U.N. Security Council to demand a cease-fire by the two sides. Two days of Israeli bombings killed 47 Lebanese and wounded 103, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife said. Besides the Israeli civilian, eight Israeli soldiers have also been killed — the highest death toll for the army in four years.

Hizbullah, which is backed by Iran, seized the soldiers Wednesday in a cross-border raid. Israel has since attacked Lebanon by air and sea and has sent in troops to look for the captured soldiers.

Israel's foreign ministry said Thursday that Lebanese terrorists holding the two soldiers captive are trying to transfer them to Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev did not disclose the source of his information.

Iran denied the suggestions, saying Jerusalem was "talking absurdities," Reuters reported. "I strongly deny such reports," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. "Because of its desperation and increasing isolation in the world and because of the tension and crisis created inside Israel, it is now talking absurdities."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday an Israeli strike on Syria would be considered an attack on the whole Islamic world that would bring a "fierce response," state television reported.

"If the Zionist regime commits another stupid move and attacks Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world and this regime will receive a very fierce response," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a telephone conversation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"He (Ahmadinejad) also said it was a must for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to become more active regarding the new crisis created by the Zionist regime," state television reported.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday blamed "elements" inside Lebanon for the violence with Israel, in unusually frank language directed at Hizbullah and its Iranian backers.

"A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside (Lebanon) and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and coordinating with Arab nations," a statement carried by the official news agency SPA said. These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created."

The IDF said Hizbullah fighters rained more than 100 rockets on northern Israel in their heaviest bombardment in a decade, hitting Israel's third largest city, Haifa. Hizbullah denied it had fired on the port city.

Major Arab governments other than Syria are not expected to give unqualified backing Hizbullah, or the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which is holding an Israeli soldier hostage.

Lebanon's government asked the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to order a cease-fire in the cross-border fighting between Lebanon and Israel. The Lebanese government announced that it was rejecting an Israeli demand to deploy its military in southern Lebanon. According to a government statement, Lebanon rejects the Israeli claim that its military actions are defensive measures.

Lebanese Minister for Social Affairs Mila Mawad on Thursday was asked by a reporter why Lebanon does not disarm Hizbullah, Mawad said the organization was brought into the government to grant its members the feeling they are Lebanese.

Israel believes Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah did not intend to ignite such a dramatic escalation when his fighters kidnapped two Israel Defense Forces soldiers and killed eight others on Tuesday. The move was apparently intended return to the spotlight Hizbullah campaign for the release of Lebanese Samir Kuntar, jailed in Israel for the killing of a Nahariya family. Nasrallah, responding to reports that the IDF is preparing to strike south of Beirut, said such a move would result in Hizbullah firing even longer-range missiles at the port-city of Haifa.

Asked earlier about the likelihood of such a scenario, Dr. Dan Shiftan of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa said, "I estimate that this is indeed a realistic scenario."

Shiftan added that Hizbullah's plans to strike Haifa existed from the get-go and had nothing to do with the scope of IDF raids in Lebanon. "A clear-cut connection exists between the authorities in the Gaza Strip and the two additional kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon," he said. "We aren't speaking about a one-time incident. This is an extensive military confrontation that in the final analysis will determine the rules of the game between Israel and elements at war with her, for example, in Lebanon and Syria."

UN Security Council Calls Urgent Meeting on Mideast

By VOA News

The United Nations Security Council plans to meet Friday to discuss escalating violence involving Israel, Lebanon-based terrorists and the Palestinians. The urgent meeting was scheduled in response to calls from the Lebanese government.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said he is sending a three-member team to the Middle East to assess the situation there. In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said the U.S. supports the efforts of the U.N. team. The United States also called upon the governments of Syria and Iran to pressure Hizbullah into releasing two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also announced Thursday that he is planning to travel to the region. EU officials are urging all parties to respect international humanitarian law. The Arab League has scheduled an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday.

Russia and France said the Israeli attacks are "disproportionate." Russia also expressed concern about the suffering of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for restraint. Amnesty International said "militants" and the Israeli and Lebanese governments must work to end attacks against civilian targets.

Two Million Israelis Under Threat


Some two million Israelis who live in northern communities from Haifa to Metula face the threat of rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon.

Northern residents have been asked to spend the night in shelters. In Akko, Haifa, Tirat Hacarmel and Nesher residents were ordered not to leave their homes and to follow the news for instructions by the security forces.

Minutes before, Hizbullah's al-Manar showed a new rocket which they said would hit "the strongholds of the Zionist enemy." The Hizbullah said they fired a Raad 1 missile at Israel.

"That's the missile used by Hizbullah to respond to Israeli attack and to hit military strongholds of the Zionist enemy. The rocket is of 333 mm in diameter and has a warhead of 100 kilograms. Our fighters used it today when they attacked the military base in Har Meron which was severely damaged and set on fire."

A senior Military Intelligence officer told the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that Hizbullah possesses thousands of rockets with a 20-kilometer firing range as well as some 100 rockets capable of reaching targets of 40-70 kilometers.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Thursday following the rocket attack on Haifa, "We expected Hizbullah to break the rules and now we are going to break them."

Arab Readers at Israeli Web Site: Hit Hizbullah


Arab readers of Israel's Foreign Ministry website encourage Israel to use tough military action against Hizbullah, Hamas; "Arabs understand language of force only," one reader wrote.

Officials in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where an Arabic language internet website is being operated, were surprised to read comments by two surfers calling on Israel to use tough military action against Hizbullah and Hamas. "If Israel doesn't take very very tough offensive actions against this terror, it will open the doors of hell on herself," a reader wrote.

"Arabs understand only the language of force. If they feel Israel is weak they will carry on until it is completely destroyed. That's how they think. What is stopping them is your force and if this thinking evaporates, even if only in their minds, Israel would heavy prices in civilians and casualties. Israel has to be strong until peace is achieved with these terrorists," an anonymous Arab reader wrote.

A British surfer who called himself Said chose to turn directly to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Mr. Olmert, I do not support wars and I am never happy to see Israel losing soldiers and this in order to protect the unsolved of Arabs. But, I believe the State of Israel faces an excellent opportunity to assassinate the extreme Hamas and Hizbullah leadership, which are linked to Syria and Iran who are isolated by the international community."

The British reader added that he has been trying to contact Israeli government officials, especially the prime minister, to offer them advice because he is convinced that the only way to live in peace in the Middle East is to use harsh military actions against terror groups.

"The last couple of years have proved that Arab regimes are unable to face these fundamentalist groups. I believe this is the interest of the Israeli people and Arab peoples to take the lead. Like a tree, Israel is acting to achieve this aim and this is for peace before anything else," he wrote.

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