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Israel pledges continued attacks on Lebanon

Demands surrender by Hezbollah

April 12, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 p.m. EDT (0310 GMT)

Beirut

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- For the second day, Israel's war with Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon focused on the capital, Beirut, with more rocket attacks on the south of the city. Israel is beefing up its presence in its self-styled security zone in south Lebanon in an operation to stop Hezbollah attacks.

The broad-scale offensive, code-named "Grapes of Wrath," employed helicopter strikes in southwestern Beirut aimed at Hezbollah targets, whose volley of defensive ground fire was too far away to be effective. Evidence around the target areas indicated the Israel attack had inflicted substantial damage to civilian property. (867K QuickTime movie)

And when Israel was fired upon by a nearby Syrian anti-aircraft unit, the Israeli pilots fired back, destroying the anti-aircraft gun. One Syrian soldier was killed, others wounded. Both Lebanese and Syrian armies sustained casualties throughout the day, and the Syrians threatened to drag Damascus into the firestorm.

Guerilla

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri accused Israel of targeting Lebanese and Syrian army units, but Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi denied the accusations, saying the military didn't have the luxury of finding out which country was shooting at it.

"We are not targeting the Lebanese or the Syrians. Unfortunately the Syrian army is all over the place and Hariri quite conveniently ignored that," Dromi said. Syria has 40,000 troops stationed in Lebanon.

While isolated targets in Beirut burned, the Israelis fought increased Hezbollah rocket fire with an escalating response of their own. The Hezbollah, seeking to show itself unintimidated, sent several Katyusha rocket barrages into northern Israel. There were injuries, and buildings were pocked with shellfire.

Civilians caught in crossfire

Lebanon's civilians are often caught in the crossfire. The Israeli attack spread fear and panic among tens of thousands of south Lebanese. Israel warned residents of the retaliatory attacks beforehand, and urged them to evacuate. An estimated 100,000 Lebanese fled north. The number of dead was not immediately clear; Lebanese security sources said 12 were killed and at least 40 wounded by the Israeli attacks.

Israeli border towns were also warned to evacuate. Overall, 19 people have died and at least 70 have been wounded on both sides of the border.

Helicopter

Those who stay behind aren't assured of a swift end to the operation. Prime Minister Shimon Peres vowed to go on hitting Hezbollah as long as it was deemed necessary.

"If they think that Kiryat Shemona is an inviting weakness, Beirut can easily become an inviting weakness. If they thought that Katyusha (a type of rocket) was a superior weapon, well, we have had to remind them that we have missiles that are better than Katyusha," he said. Kiryat Shemona is an Israeli border town that has come under bombardment.

Peres

Peres also sent a message to the Lebanese government. "Lebanon, under Prime Minister Hariri, is trying to rebuild itself, to restore its economy," he noted. Unless the Lebanese government can "take charge of the situation in Lebanon," that is, drive out Hezbollah, "the cost of the lack of order will be paid by the people of Lebanon."

Hariri retorted that if Israel wants its neighbor to become strong enough to repel the Hezbollah, it is going about it the wrong way. "Israel is trying to solve this problem by making more attacks, which is strengthening Hezbollah, killing more civilians, destroying the economy and not solving the problem," Hariri said.

The solution, he said, is for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon and end "this vicious circle of terror and killing and attacking and action and reaction."

Death toll mounting

The cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation has not been broken, even though civilian deaths on both sides of the border are mounting. In one of the worst incidents, all five members of the same family were killed during an air raid in Lebanon's West Bekaa Valley.

And in the Shiite slums of Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanese buried one of their victims from the first air strikes, a teen-age girl. Kamila El-jah begged Allah to curse the Israelis for killing her 17-year-old daughter Hadiji.

If Israel intends to restore the integrity of the security zone in its occupied strip of south Lebanon, it means shutting down Hezbollah's ability to rocket northern Jewish settlements. Western military observers say it would require a much wider and prolonged campaign than the one under way to undermine Hezbollah.

The eventual scope of the Israeli action remains unclear, but it shows no signs of letting up in the short term. Israeli gunners are now targeting Lebanese villages in a huge belt of territory to the north of its security zone. With more troops at the ready, observers are not ruling out an Israeli ground sweep in southern Lebanon as well.

Correspondents Brent Sadler and Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.

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