Hizbullah pounds northern Israel with rockets, mortars

Monday, August 11, 2003

TEL AVIV Hizbullah bombarded northern Israeli towns over the weekend in the most serious escalation since the Jewish state's pullout from Lebanon in 2000.

Hizbullah gunners pounded Israeli communities near the Lebanese border three times over the weekend. Several people were treated for shock and the military was said to have sustained heavy damage to equipment.

Israeli officials said the Hizbullah attacks were the most fierce and widespread since the Israeli military pullout from Lebanon in May 2000. The Hizbullah used artillery, mortar and Katyusha rockets in its current offensive, Middle East Newsline reported.

An Israeli teenager was killed and four others were injured when a shell struck a home in the border community of Shlomi.

The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded with threats of retaliation. But Israeli officials said Sharon would rely on the United States to stop the Hizbullah attacks, believed to have been approved by Iran and Syria.

"We have no desire to open a new front," Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said. "They are not shooting anti-aircraft fire, rather shooting against people. Hizbullah is playing with fire."

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A Hizbullah statement said its gunners fired anti-aircraft shells toward Israeli military aircraft that had entered Lebanese air space. Earlier, Israeli officials said the movement has developed anti-aircraft shells that explode near ground targets.

"An air defense unit of the Islamic resistance confronted Zionist enemy planes that violated Lebanese sovereignty over the western sector of south Lebanon," the statement said.

Officials said Israel employed AH-64A Apache attack helicopters in southern Lebanon after the Hizbullah strike. They said the Apaches knocked out an artillery piece responsible for the fire on Shlomi. Later, Israeli fighter-jets broke the sound barrier around Beirut.

Sharon has turned to the United States to stop the Hizbullah attacks, officials said. They said Israel plans to maintain restraint and wait for Washington to pressure Syria to stop Hizbullah.

In all, Hizbullah fired 30 Katyusha rockets toward Israel, officials said. They said this was the first major Hizbullah attack since December 2002 and included strikes in all sectors of the Israeli-Lebanese border Hizbullah's offensive against Israel appears to have been gradual, officials said. They said that two weeks ago Hizbullah began to fire 357 mm anti-aircraft shells toward Israeli ground targets rather than at Israeli aircraft. That followed with a Katyusha and mortar attack on Israeli positions on the Shebaa plateau and the Golan Heights on Friday.

Officials said Israel has protested the attacks to the United Nations. They said the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also relayed warnings to both Lebanon and Syria. Syria is the current president of the UN Security Council.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas opened with a barrage of its Al Batar anti-tank rockets against Israeli communities. Six people were treated for shock.

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilead, head of the Defense Ministry's strategic unit, said he believed the violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon will wind down. Gilead cited U.S. and international pressure to maintain a lid on tension in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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