Three killed as Israel bombs Beirut suburb

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The Independent Online

Israel has widened its offensive on Lebanon, with fighter bombers blasting the airport for a second day, residential buildings in the southern suburbs of the capital, igniting fuel storage tanks and cutting the main highway to Syria.

The raids appeared to target Hezbollah's leadership, which is based in the densely Shia Muslim neighbourhoods to the south of Beirut.

The Israeli military spokesman's office confirmed the strikes. The Israeli army said it had attacked 15 targets including: a gas depot south of the port town of Sidon, several spots on the highway linking Beirut to the Syrian capital of Damascus, bridges in Beirut and the Hezbollah's headquarters in the southern suburbs.

During the night, Hezbollah also fired rockets at northern Israel, causing no damage and no casualties, the Israeli military said.

In Beirut, the impact of at least seven missiles were heard before dawn today, according to an AP photographer, reporter and other witnesses. Anti-aircraft fire from the ground echoed in other suburbs of Beirut as the planes roared over the Lebanese capital.

The bombs and missiles knocked down a bridge, badly damaged another, sheered off the facades of buildings, blew up windows of apartments and sent walls and balconies crashing on cars parked on the streets.

Lebanese TV footage showed that a bomb had plowed a hole in a main crossroad in south Beirut at Mar Mikhail, on the road that leads out of the capital to the mountains and to Syria.

A young man with blood dripping from his face and covering his entire bare chest and abdomen was seen on TV walking out of a damaged apartment building.

Firemen were seen struggling to put out several fires as glass, aluminum siding and stones littered the streets.

A fuel storage tank hit last night at Beirut's airport was still burning. Another fuel tank at the power plant in the town of Jiye 20 miles south of the Lebanese capital was also in flames, hours after the Israeli air force bombed it Friday morning.

Some news reports said a playground where Hezbollah leaders hold rallies for thousands of supporters was also hit.

Israeli officials had warned that south Beirut could be targeted. Leaflets dropped Thursday evening told people to stay away from Hezbollah headquarters.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has his office and residence in the district of Haret Hreik in south Beirut. Hezbollah's Shura Council, its decision-making body, and the Al-Manar TV station are also located in that area, a section of town heavily guarded by Hezbollah.

The guerrilla had warned Israel against attacking south Beirut or the capital itself, saying it would retaliate with rockets against Haifa, Israel's third-largest city. However, Hezbollah denied responsibility for a rocket attack late Thursday on Haifa, saying it would only fire on the Israeli coastal city if the Lebanese capital or its southern suburbs were hit.

The Shiite militia, however, has fired volleys of Katyusha and other rockets on northern Israeli border communities.

Israel has hit hundreds of targets in Lebanon, closing down the country's sole international airport and damaging the main highway to neighboring Syria. As Israeli ships blockade the coast, the assault has largely cut off the country .

Caught in the middle of the fight between Hezbollah and Israel, the Lebanese government has asked the U.N. Security Council to demand a cease-fire by the two sides.

Israel says it holds Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's snatching of the soldiers. But the Lebanese government insists it had no prior knowledge of the move and did not condone it.

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