More Fierce Clashes Along Israeli-Lebanese Border
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The rockets keep coming in Haifa, where a Katyusha scored a direct hit on an apartment building Friday, injuring 15 people, two of them seriously.
Also on Friday, the Israeli army said Hizballah fired a Katyusha rocket into a U.N. outpost in southern Lebanon. The rocket apparently fell short of its mark.
An unnamed U.N. officer was quoted as saying that the outpost belonging to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had been struck by Israeli artillery fire, severely damaging the structure, but not injuring the Ghanian troops inside.
But the Israeli army said don't blame us -- it said Hizballah had been firing Katyushas toward Israel at the same time the U.N. post was hit.
Israeli continued striking targets in Lebanon from the air on Friday. And Israeli ground troops clashed with Hizballah terrorists inside the Lebanese border. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in the clashes and an Israeli army officer died when two Israeli Apache combat helicopters collided over northern Israel on Thursday.
U.N. chief Annan called for an immediate ceasefire on Thursday, criticizing both Israel and Hizballah.
"Whatever other agendas they may serve, Hizballah's actions, which it portrays as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interests, in fact do neither," Annan said. "On the contrary, they hold an entire nation hostage [and] set back prospects for negotiation of a comprehensive Middle East peace."
Nevertheless, while he backed Israel's right to defend itself, Annan condemned what he called Israel's "excessive use of force" and said that Israel's attempts to hit Hizballah's infrastructure had "torn [Lebanon] to shreds."
But Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Gillerman said that there would be no ceasefire and noted that the one word missing from Annan's address was "terror."
Israeli military officials have estimated they need at least several more weeks to achieve their military objectives.
Israel's aim is to cripple Hizballah, giving the Lebanese government a chance to deploy its army in the southern Lebanon.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Lebanon's defense minister warned Israel on Thursday that if Israeli ground forces enter Southern Lebanon, Lebanese troops will fight alongside Hizballah against Israel.
Israeli government spokesman Danny Seaman downplayed the defense minister's comments and said that Israel has no reason to engage the Lebanese army.
"We're not against the Lebanese people or the Lebanese army, but anybody firing on Israeli troops will be met with lethal force," Seaman said by telephone from Haifa.
He said that if the Lebanese government had shown the same "bravado" toward Hizballah, they wouldn't be in this mess now.
Brig-Gen. Ido Nehushtan told reporters in Haifa on Friday that Israel has carried out nearly 3,000 air sorties, targeting some 1,500 sites connected with launching, storing and transporting missiles as well as terrorist headquarters.
Hizballah has a wide network of tunnels, bunkers, outposts - many in civilian areas - along with many weapons that Israel is trying to destroy.
Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appeared in a video recording on Al-Jazeera television on Thursday evening, proving that he had survived an Israeli attempt to target him by dropping 23 tons of explosives on what the army believed was his bunker.
Nasrallah said that all of Hizballah's infrastructure was intact and vowed that his group had "many more surprises" for Israel - at the "right time."
Israeli strikes on Hizballah targets reportedly have killed some 330 Lebanese, many of them civilians.
More than 1,000 rockets have crashed into Israel in the last 10 days, killing 15 civilians and wounding more than 300 others, said Nehushtan.
Many Israelis are questioning how Lebanon, a sovereign nation, could have allowed Hizballah to become so strong and so entrenched in the country, knowing full well that Israel would one day fight back.
Along the border
Israeli ground troops were engaging in battles with Hizballah gunmen inside Lebanon, army spokesman Lt. Eli Ovitz said, "to eliminate the possibility of terrorists firing [rockets] at Israel."
Ovitz noted that far fewer rockets had fallen in Israel on Thursday - about 35 instead of the 100 or more of the last few days. During a 12-hour period overnight no rockets were launched against Israel. "That's already a good sign," he said.
It is difficult for Israel to knock out the underground bunkers from the air and therefore Israel has sent in small numbers of ground troops -- and more may be coming, press reports said. Israeli officials have said the nation has no intention of re-establishing a buffer zone in southern Lebanon.
Ovitz said the Air Force was doing all it could to avoid civilian Lebanese casualties, even aborting bombing missions that were already underway in order to prevent civilian losses.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops are continuing to carry out military operations against the Hamas infrastructure and searching for tunnels, the army said.
Palestinians reported four killed, including a Hamas militant, when a tank shell hit a house.
The army said that it identified two Palestinians attempting to fire an anti-tank rocket at Israeli troops from the balcony of a home and fired a shell at them. The terrorists choose to operate within the civilian population, an army spokesperson said.
On Thursday, the Israeli army dropped leaflets signaling a shift in policy, warning residents of Gaza that their homes would from now on be targeted if they were storing weapons in them.
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