Lebanon asks U.N. to broker cease-fire
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel blockaded Lebanese ports and repeatedly struck Beirut airport and two military airbases on Thursday, expanding reprisals that have killed 55 civilians in Lebanon since Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier.
Lebanese guerrillas responded by firing rockets at Israel’s port city of Haifa.
Israeli helicopter gunships unleashed missiles on Beirut international airport, setting fuel tanks ablaze, in the second attack on Lebanon's only international air facility, Lebanese security officials said.
One helicopter gunship raked the fuel depots with machine gun fire while three others fired air-to-surface missiles, the officials added.
Earlier Thursday, Israeli warplanes punched holes in the runways of the airport and two military air bases, attacks that could draw the Lebanese army into the conflict.
‘Nothing is safe’
Israel’s army chief Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz warned that “nothing is safe” in Lebanon and said Beirut itself — particularly Hezbollah offices and residences — would be a target. Maj. Gen. Udi Adam said Israel had hit hundreds of targets and hadn’t ruled out sending in ground troops.
In response to the violence, Lebanon asked the U.N. Security Council to demand a cease-fire. The Council set an urgent meeting for Friday.
Meantime, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said the country has information that the Lebanese guerrillas who captured the two Israeli soldiers are trying to transfer them to Iran.
“We have concerns that they could be taken out of Lebanon to Iran. Those concerns have a basis,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. He did not disclose the source of his information.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied the allegations. “I strongly deny such reports,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. “Because of its desperation and increasing isolation in the world and because of the tension and crisis created inside Israel, it is now talking absurdities.”
‘A major, major escalation‘
More than 50 people have died in violence following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants.
No injuries were reported in the attack on Haifa, home to 270,000 residents and a major oil refinery. But it was the Shiite militia’s deepest strike ever into Israeli territory — some 30 miles — and was certain to draw a harsh response from Israel.
Those who fire into such a densely populated area will pay a heavy price,” said David Baker, an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office.
“This is a major, major escalation,” Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said. Both the Islamic Resistance and a spokesman for Hezbollah denied their involvement in the attack.
Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israeli towns and said it was using a new missile that appeared to be more advanced than previous models. One Israeli was killed and more than 35 injured.