Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Thousands of students in Beirut have taken part in violent anti-American demonstrations, protesting perceived US support for Israeli air raids on Lebanese targets.
Demonstrators burned an Israeli flag and shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." Police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators, injuring at least five, and they used teargas to prevent some 2,000 students from flocking to the U.S. Embassy, according to radio reports.
On Wednesday, Israel streamlined the process required before its air force can retaliate for attacks by the Iranian-backed Hizballah terrorist organization.
Earlier in the week, Hizballah vowed to continue to kill Israeli soldiers and hinted that it would not be afraid to attack northern Israeli communities with missiles.
Last week Israel bombed three Lebanese power stations, responding to an increase in Hizballah attacks from civilian areas. Those attacks killed seven Israeli and four allied South Lebanese Army soldiers in three weeks.
Israel has now said it will not unilaterally abide by a 1996 agreement forbidding attacks from or on civilian areas.
Meanwhile the U.S. has appeared to backtrack in its support for Israel in its fight against Hizballah.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright initially placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hizballah, saying Israel was "sending a signal" by hitting at civilian infrastructure targets. Israel and the international community interpreted her statements as being supportive of Israel's actions.
But on Thursday, State Department spokesman James Rubin said Israeli attacks against civilian infrastructure and populated areas would not "solve the problem."
"We believe everything must be done to prevent civilian casualties in this ongoing conflict in Lebanon. That means there should be no attacks from populated areas in
order to ensure that there are no attacks against populated areas."
A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister told CNSNews.com it had no comment on the US statements.
Israeli and US demands for the Syrian and Lebanese governments to restrain Hizballah have gone virtually unheeded. Israel believes Syria in particular has the ability to control the militia, since it has 30,000 troops in Lebanon and also controls supply routes to the organization.
Rubin refrained from pointing a finger at Syria, but he did accuse Hizballah of causing the escalation in fighting in south Lebanon.
"The latest escalation in southern Lebanon is cynical and it is a deliberate effort by the Hizballah to direct fire from populated areas ...[and to undermine] the prospects for peace in the region and the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace," Rubin said.
Hizballah says it is fighting to oust Israeli soldiers from a 10-mile wide zone in southern Lebanon, which Israel established 18 years ago as a buffer against cross-border terror attacks.
Recently, Hizballah declared it had no intention of stopping at the Lebanese border but would fight Israel all the way to Jerusalem. The organization also called on Palestinians to fight Israelis even if they had an agreement not to do so.
The U.S. has also suffered at the hands of Hizballah in Lebanon. In 1983, a suicide bomb attack against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut killed 50 people. In a separate attack in the same year, 241 U.S. servicemen died when a U.S. Marine barracks in the city was blown up.