Hizballah Rockets Rain on Israel, Prompting Retaliation

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Tensions are high along the Israel-Lebanon border Friday, as more Hizballah rockets fell on northern Israel, wounding at least five Israelis and prompting Israeli retaliation.

The incoming volley was the second since Thursday night, when a barrage of Katyusha rockets killed an Israeli soldier driving along the border and injured 26 civilians in the northern border city of Kiryat Shmona.

In retaliation, Israeli jets bombed Lebanese infrastructure targets and Hizballah bases in the early morning hours.

Israel struck two power stations, plunging parts of Beirut and Lebanon's second largest city, Tripoli, into darkness. The main Beirut-Damascus highway was also bombed, according to reports from the area.

Thursday night's attack killed 24-year-old Sheked Uzeri, whose jeep was struck by a rocket as it traveled along the border. Tens of thousands of Israelis took shelter underground as dozens of rockets fell in the area.

This is the second time since February Israel has damaged Lebanese targets in retaliation for Hizballah assaults.

Last time, warplanes hit three electricity transformers in Lebanon in response to deadly attacks on its soldiers and those of its South Lebanese Army ally. That bombing failed to bring about a cessation in the fighting, which has continued almost daily in southern Lebanon.

"The Israeli Defense Forces will continue to take all necessary action against Hizballah and those backing it in order to defend the northern border," an army statement said.

"No country on earth will be ready to accept salvos of Katyushas on its civilian centers," Prime Minister Ehud Barak told reporters in Kiryat Shmona, as he visited residents there.

"Israel will not allow it to happen and we will have to respond, and we will know how to respond," Barak said. He told residents of the north that they needed to have "stamina" to sit out what might be a long stay in their bunkers and security rooms.

During the second attack, Kiryat Shmona mayoral advisor Ofer Adar spoke with CNSNews.com by phone from his shelter. Everyone was in underground bunkers and security rooms at the time.

"We're not thinking now, we're working. We reacted. Now they're reacting," Adar said.

One house, which was empty at the time, was destroyed in the attack. The rockets also caused forest fires in the area and other as yet undetermined damage.

Before the second attack, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that if the rockets continued to fall, Israel's response would be even harsher than it had been in the morning.

The current round of attacks was not unexpected. On Wednesday, 14 Lebanese civilians were injured when an Israeli jet dropped a bomb on the edge of the village of Habboush, outside the Israeli-declared "security zone." The Israel Air Force said that the bomb had been dropped by mistake.

The Hizballah did not immediately fire Katyushas on northern Israel as it usually does when civilian areas are hit, but responded by shelling Israeli outposts.

However, on Thursday, an SLA tank fired at suspicious movement in an abandoned village - reportedly without Israeli approval - killing an elderly Lebanese woman and her daughter, who apparently had decided to stay in the evacuated village.

Three Hizballah militiamen apparently on their way to plant bombs were also killed on Wednesday when an Israeli army squad happened upon the group.

Israeli Withdrawal

Israel's ministerial security cabinet, which met to decide on Israel's response, warned Hizballah and the Lebanese and Syrian governments that Israel's decision to leave south Lebanon "did not prevent the Israeli army from reacting to attacks against its citizens."

Syria, with some 35,000 troops and more than a million workers in Lebanon, virtually controls the government in Beirut. It also backs the Hizballah, which receives supplies from Iran.

Israel has warned that it will respond with swift and harsh action in retaliation for attacks on its soldiers and civilians before and also after it withdraws from Lebanon.

Jerusalem has declared its intention to withdraw by July from a nine-mile wide zone that it has maintained for the last 15 years as a buffer against cross-border terror attacks, according to United Nations resolutions 425 and 426.

But Hizballah has pledged to continue its war against Israel, until it withdraws and perhaps even after the pullout.

The current escalation occurred as U.N. special envoy Terje Larson visited Beirut for talks regarding Israel's withdrawal. The U.N. has agreed to oversee the Israeli redeployment but Larson said a peacekeeping force would not protect the border of Israel.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and Saudi Arabian Prince Saud al-Faisal announced after a meeting earlier this week that they want the U.N. to take control of south Lebanon after Israel withdraws.

They support a U.N. peacekeeping force in the area, "so that Israel would not have any pretext to hold Syria or Lebanon responsible for any security incidents that might occur and threaten security, peace and stability in the region," they said in a statement.

It is the first time the countries have thrown their backing behind the proposed Israeli withdrawal.

But according to Larson, Israel's border will not be secured by an international force.

"Peacekeepers are not in Lebanon to defend or protect the state of Israel ... [or] to take on tasks related to law and security which should be carried out by the government of Lebanon," Larson said in Beirut.