Israelis knock out power station

Agony of the people as bombing empties Lebanese villages
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The Independent Online
Beirut

Ignoring France's initiative to halt the onslaught on Lebanon, Israel yesterday destroyed another of the country's key power plants, setting the electricity station in the Metn hills ablaze while opening a missile bombardment on the southern port of Tyre.

's power supply was cut by two thirds after an Israeli helicopter fired a rocket into the station at Bsaleem outside the Christian eastern suburbs of - an area into which no Hizbollah has ever set foot - sending a two-mile column of smoke over the Mediterranean.

Lebanese and Syrian anti-aircraft batteries have now been positioned across west in apparent readiness for what so many Lebanese fear: an Israeli attack on the international airport. Five passenger airliners, including the regular Middle East Airlines flight from London, were forced to circle the city for 90 minutes during the afternoon as Israeli helicopters staged another raid over the southern suburbs of the city, wounding one man when they fired missiles into two buildings. Throughout the day, anti-aircraft batteries fired repeatedly into the sky over the capital as Israeli jets made reconnaisance flights across .

In Paris, the Lebanese prime minister spoke gloomily of the end of the Middle East peace process while the United Nations in southern Lebanon logged a significant increase in the fighting by both sides. In the 24 hours ending at 5am yesterday, Israel had fired 4,000 shells into the UN zone alone, 52 of them landing close to UN positions. For their part, the Hizbollah - supposedly targeted by "surgical strikes" from Israeli aircraft - mounted their heaviest daily retaliation bombardment yet against northern Israel: 90 Katyusha rockets fired off towards Galilee.

Other reports suggest that the Hizbollah may have fired as many as 400 Katyushas at Israel in 24 hours, including rockets fired from north of the Litani river, further proof that the guerrilla force has not been cowed by the Israeli attack. Since the offensive began on 11 April, not one Hizbollah member or Israeli soldier has been reported killed. The dead comprise 23 civilians, two Lebanese soldiers and a Syrian officer.

In a transmission that probably had its eye on CNN re-transmission rather than reality, Hizbollah's television station showed film of around 50 young men with their faces blackened and with what appeared to be explosives strapped to their chests, announcing that they formed a special "martyrs' brigade" which would attack Israeli targets and "American interests" in retaliation for US support for the Israeli attacks.

By dusk, was starting to resemble the old civil war capital, its highways deserted, its unkempt gardens the home of anti-aircraft guns. Power cuts stopped mains water pumps. Given the air attacks on the two electricity stations over the past two days - the only "surgical strikes" Israel has actually undertaken - the collapse of the city's infrastructure is clearly what the Israelis intend.

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