Israel kills 34 in strikes on Lebanon

Palestinian economy ministry in Gaza hit

BEIRUT (Reuters) — Israel killed at least 34 civilians on Saturday, including 15 children, in air strikes meant to punish Lebanon for letting Hizbollah guerrillas menace the Jewish state’s northern border.

Israel’s bombing of Lebanese roads, bridges, ports and airports, as well as Hizbollah targets, is its most destructive onslaught since a 1982 invasion to expel Palestinian forces.

For the first time, ports in Christian areas were bombarded and a helicopter missile hit a lighthouse on Beirut’s seafront.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora demanded an immediate UN-backed ceasefire, denouncing Israel for turning his country into a “disaster zone”. He appealed for foreign aid.

An Israeli missile incinerated a van in southern Lebanon, killing 20 people, among them 15 children, in the deadliest single attack of the campaign launched by Israel after Hizbollah captured two of its soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday.

Police said the van was carrying two families fleeing the village of Marwaheen after Israeli loudspeaker warnings to leave their homes. Many of the bodies were charred and broken. Other raids on north, east and south Lebanon killed 14 people and wounded 37, security sources said.

At least 103 people, all but four of them civilians, have been killed in Israel’s four-day-old assault, which has choked Lebanon’s economy and prompted tourists and foreigners to flee.

Hizbollah rockets struck deeper into Israel than ever, wounding eight people in Tiberias.

Altogether 10 Israelis were wounded as about 80 rockets rained down from Lebanon. Israel has deployed Patriot missile batteries in the northern city of Haifa to intercept rockets.

Four Israeli civilians, including a child, have been killed by Hizbollah bombardment this week.

Israel gave authorities the power to shut schools, factories and public institutions in the north, which has come under rocket fire from Hizbollah, a defence ministry source said. The measure fell short of a full state of emergency.

Bush calls on Syria

US President George W. Bush, who has declined to urge Israel to curb its military operations, said Syria should tell Hizbollah, also backed by Iran, to stop cross-border attacks. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared Israel’s behaviour towards Lebanon to that of Nazi Germany.

Lebanon’s main commercial ports of Beirut and Tripoli came under Israeli fire, as well as ports in the Christian towns of Jounieh and Amsheet, security sources and witnesses said.

One Lebanese soldier was killed and several wounded when an army radar station was hit in Batroun, north of Beirut.

In Beirut, Israeli warplanes flattened Hizbollah’s nine-storey headquarters and destroyed the office of a Hamas leader, Mohammed Nazzal. Hamas said Nazzal had survived.

Israeli planes fired rockets near a Lebanese-Syrian border crossing, heightening fears it could extend its campaign to Syria, which along with Iran is Hizbollah’s main ally.

Israel said it had attacked targets only in Lebanon. A Syrian official also said Israel had not struck Syria.

Syrian President Bashar Assad pledged to put his country’s resources at Lebanon’s disposal.

With no sign the crisis would ease soon, thousands of people carried on streaming to the Syrian border and safety.

Italy began evacuating its nationals from Lebanon. Other Western and Arab countries made plans to ferry their citizens from Lebanon to Syria or Cyprus.

Israel aims not just to force Hizbollah to free the soldiers, whom the Shiite group wants to trade for prisoners in Israel, but to destroy its ability to fire rockets into Israel.

“The best way to stop the violence is for Hizbollah to lay down its arms and to stop attacking. And therefore I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hizbollah,” Bush told a joint news conference with President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Russia.

The European Union, in a statement at the G-8 summit, said Israel’s assault on Lebanon was disproportionate.

The Beirut government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, lacks the unity and firepower to disarm Hizbollah, the only Lebanese faction to keep its guns after the 1975-90 civil war.

After Israel quit Lebanon in 2000, Hizbollah confined its attacks mainly to a disputed border area, but Wednesday’s bold raid shattered tacit rules that had limited frontier violence.

Israel’s campaign in Lebanon coincided with an offensive it launched in the Gaza Strip on June 28 to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Israeli aircraft attacked the Palestinian economy ministry in Gaza and a house where a Hamas man was killed and eight people were wounded. Israel has killed about 85 Palestinians, around half of them fighters since the offensive was launched.

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