Hezbollah warns of attacks far into Israel
Without peace, the group said, rockets could strike central Israel.
By Lee Keath
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Hezbollah's leader yesterday greeted a new Mideast mission by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with a warning of what was to come if an end to Lebanon's war can't be found: rockets deep into central Israel.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah made the threat in an address aired on Hezbollah television and carried live on stations in Israel and across the Arab world. In Beirut, fireworks went off in a Hezbollah stronghold in celebration.
Another portent of what more fighting could bring came in the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre, where volunteers lowered 31 wooden coffins into a mass grave, victims of Israeli bombardment in past days. A tiny coffin held the body of a day-old girl killed when a missile smashed her family's white-flagged car as they fled their home village.
Israeli troops pulled back from the Lebanese border town of Bint Jbail, which has been the center of the heaviest ground fighting. The weeklong battle there underscored Israel's difficulty in pushing back guerrillas who have been preparing for years for this fight.
Though Hezbollah declared the pullback a victory, it may have actually been in preparation for a new Israeli incursion along a different part of the border zone. Hours after leaving Bint Jbail, troops and tanks massed farther to the east on the Israeli side of the frontier, Lebanese security officials said early today.
Yesterday, Israel made its closest strike to Hezbollah ally Syria yet. Warplanes hit the Lebanese side of a Syrian-Lebanese border crossing, forcing the closure of the main transit point for refugees fleeing and humanitarian aid entering Lebanon. Two more missiles hit the area early today.
On the Lebanon-Israel border, an Israeli strike hit near a U.N. peacekeepers' station, wounding two. The world body had just relocated unarmed U.N. observers to the peacekeepers' posts for safety after four observers were killed in an Israeli strike on Tuesday near the town of Khiam.
Rice said compromises would be needed from everyone to end the Israeli onslaught aimed at reining in Hezbollah.
"These are really hard and emotional decisions for both sides, under extreme pressure in a difficult set of circumstances," she said. "And so I expect the discussions to be difficult, but there will have to be give-and-take."
Still, Rice said she was encouraged by a tentative Hezbollah commitment to allow international troops into southern Lebanon and eventually disarm. She met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem last evening and was expected to stop in Lebanon, although no visit was announced.
Israel Radio reported that Rice planned to travel to the United Nations on Tuesday and hoped the Security Council can prepare a resolution calling for a cease-fire on Wednesday.
France circulated a draft Security Council resolution yesterday among the 14 other members. It would call for an immediate halt to fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and seek a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army.
The question of Hezbollah's sincerity toward negotiations is crucial to Rice's second attempt to broker a cease-fire. The United States and Israel insist any deal to end the fighting must ensure Hezbollah guerrillas are pushed back from Israel's northern border.
Nasrallah said he would cooperate with the Lebanese government in negotiations to end the crisis. But he was vague about how far he would go and suggested disarmament would be off the table if conditions outlined by Lebanon are not met - including the resolution of a border dispute with Israel.
He gave his latest televised address a day after Hezbollah fired its deepest strike into Israel yet, hitting outside the town of Afula.
"No matter how long the war lasts, whatever sacrifices it takes, we are ready. We will not be broken or defeated," he said.
"Many cities in the center [of Israel] will be targeted... if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages."
Despite its intense bombardment of Lebanon - and heavy ground fighting near the border - Israel has been unable to stop barrages of hundreds of Hezbollah rockets. Guerrillas fired at least 90 rockets into Israel yesterday, lightly injuring five people.
Israel has said it will launch a series of limited ground incursions into Lebanon to push back guerrillas, rather than carrying out a full-fledged invasion. The pullback from Bint Jbail suggested that thrust, launched a week ago, had ended.
Lebanese officials reported a massing of troops and tanks near the Israeli town of Metulla farther to the northeast, suggesting another incursion could begin soon.
Like Bint Jbail, the Lebanese town of Khiam just across the border from Metulla is one of the largest in the border zone. Khiam has been under intense bombardment in recent days - including the strike that hit the U.N. post nearby and killed the four observers.
Israel's pullback from Bint Jbail ended the bloodiest siege in what has so far been only a limited ground incursion into southern Lebanon. Israel has said it will carry out a number of such incursions rather than launch a full-fledged invasion.
Bombardment by Israeli forces and rocket fire from guerrillas was intense yesterday morning around the Hezbollah stronghold, Lebanese security officials said.
But by yesterday afternoon, Israel had withdrawn. Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command, said Israel never intended to occupy Bint Jbail or to get "stuck in one place."