Sixth day of Middle East turmoil

Monday, July 17, 2006

Israel says that it stands firm on its position to strike Hezbollah and Hamas targets in Lebanon until its two kidnapped soldiers have been released from captivity. In a speech to the Knesset, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the country wouldn't stop its attacks until they've succeeded in "bringing home the soldiers, complete peace and quiet, removing Hezbollah from the area".

The death toll in Lebanon after six days of Israeli strikes is now over 204 people, all but 14 of whom are civilians. A further 415 have been injured. Ten people were killed while their vehicle was crossing a bridge in southern Lebanon and at least 32 more died elsewhere in the country on Monday.

Nine people, including six children, have been found dead in a house in the Lebanese town of Tyre. They had reportedly taken shelter from Israeli air raids on Sunday when their house were hit.

"What Israel has been doing is cutting the country to pieces", Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora said Monday. He also noted that the Israeli attacks had caused billions of dollars of damage for the country.

Israel attacked targets in Beirut, Tripoli, and Abdeh on Monday. In the Lebanese capital Beirut, the port and its southern suburbs were bombed. Fuel and gas storage tanks were also set ablaze. A private house was hit by a missile in southern Lebanon when it missed a Hezbollah site. Eight Lebanese soldiers were killed and twelve wounded when Israeli warplanes hit Abdeh in northern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, three Israeli tanks briefly entered Lebanon, reportedly to destroy Hezbollah encampments. The Israeli army denied it was part of a large-scale invasion. The Israeli Defense Minister said earlier that the country intended to create a one-kilometer "buffer zone" inside Lebanon to try to stop missiles fired by Hezbollah.

It was claimed that an Israeli F16 fighter jet was shot down over Beirut on Monday, and there were rumours that a pilot had been captured. Lebanese television showed a flaming object falling from the sky, but Israel said it had not lost any of its planes. Later, Israeli radio speculated that Hezbollah had attempted to launch a long-range missile that malfunctioned.

Hezbollah again fired missiles at the city of Haifa and other towns in northern Israel Monday. Four people were injured in Haifa when a building partially collapsed, and six more were injured when a missile landed near a hospital in Safed.

The Israeli air force said it destroyed a truck sitting near the Israel-Lebanon border capable of firing long-range Iranian missiles. Iran denies selling missiles to the Hezbollah.

Several countries have been evacuating their citizens from Lebanon, and French PM Dominique de Villepin is in Beirut where he held talks with his Lebanese counterpart.