Israel's blitz on Lebanon began to turn into an international crisis last night after helicopters marauding over Beirut's southern suburbs opened fire on a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, killing a Syrian major and wounding eight of his men. The incident is likely to have grave repercussions on the crumbling Middle East peace negotiations.
Even as the Israelis were bombing the capital, up to 50,000 Lebanese refugees - fleeing from their homes after a warning by Israel that their villages would be assaulted in the hunt for Hizbollah fighters - streamed towards Beirut.
Earlier in the day, Hizbollah guerrillas retaliated for Thursday's Israeli raids by launching more than 24 Katyusha rockets at northern Galilee, wounding five Israeli civilians at Kiryat Shmona; one of them, a woman, was critically injured when a missile exploded beside her car. Within hours, the Israelis took their own counter-retaliation by shelling the village of Yohmor in the lower Bekaa Valley, killing four Lebanese civilians and wounding eight others, including two girls aged 10 and 11. Another eight wounded civilians hit by Israeli shellfire were brought to hospitals in Tyre.
In southern Lebanon, Israeli troops were reported to be preparing for a parachute drop onto the semi-abandoned villages north of their occupation zone while hundreds of Hizbollah guerrillas - the only Lebanese who were not known to have suffered any casualties yesterday - lay in hiding in the hilltop hamlets, waiting for Israeli troops to arrive if an airborne attack materialised.
In a grim warning earlier in the day, the Hizbollah claimed responsibility for the missile attack on Kiryat Shmona, adding that this was merely the first response to "the crimes of the enemy".
The Hizbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, said that Hizbollah's main retaliation - which had not yet been visited upon the Israelis - would "astound the world".
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