WORLD / Middle East

Israeli warplanes attack Beirut airport
Updated: 2006-07-13 16:58

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel intensified its attacks against Lebanon on Thursday, blasting Beirut's international airport and the southern part of the country in its heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years. More than two dozen civilians were killed, officials said.

A crater is seen next to planes on a runway after Israeli warplanes targeted the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July 13, 2006. Israeli forces intensified their attacks in Lebanon on Thursday, with airstrikes that blasted the country's only international airport and the Hezbollah TV station in what was Israel's heaviest air campaign against Lebanon since the 1982 invasion. [AP]

The strikes on the airport, which damaged three runways, came hours before Israel said it was imposing an air and naval blockade on Lebanon to cut off supply routes to Lebanese militants.

The airport, located in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, was closed after the attacks and flights were diverted to nearby Cyprus. It was the first time since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut that the airport was hit by Israel.

Israel also fired a missile at the building housing the studios of Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday morning, the channel's press officer Ibrahim Farhat told The Associated Press. One person was hurt, but the station continued to broadcast.

Overnight Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon, meanwhile, killed 26 civilians and wounded dozens more, Lebanese security officials said. A family of 10 and another family of seven were killed in their homes in the village of Dweir near Nabatiyeh, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Later Thursday, Lebanese guerrillas fired volleys of rockets at northern Israel, killing an Israeli woman in her home in the border town of Nahariya, officials said. Five people were wounded.

The strikes followed a cross-border raid by Hezbollah guerrillas Wednesday during which two Israeli soldiers were captured. The militants demanded the release of Israeli-held prisoners, but Israel responded by bombing Lebanon and sending ground troops across the border for the first time in six years.

Eight Israeli soldiers and three Lebanese were killed in fighting Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Hezbollah raid an "act of war" by Lebanon and threatened "very, very, very painful" retaliation. The Cabinet, meeting Wednesday in the wake of the military's highest daily death toll in four years, decided to continue the army operation and call on the international community to disarm Hezbollah, according to participants.

On Thursday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the offensive in Lebanon has far-reaching objectives, including pushing Hezbollah militants away from the Israeli border and eventually sidelining the group altogether.

"We must neutralize the hostile terrorist infrastructure that exists in Lebanon," he said.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz also demanded that Lebanese army forces be deployed along the border. Lebanon has long refused to do this, saying that it is not in business of protecting Israel's northern border.

The Lebanese government said Wednesday that it had not known of the Hezbollah operation, did not condone it and bore no responsibility for it. The Lebanese Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, urged the U.N. Security Council to intervene.
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