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Israel widens targets to hit civilian sites

Abraham Rabinovich and Martin Chulov / The Australian | August 8 2006

ISRAEL plans to ramp up its offensive in Lebanon by attacking the nation's strategic civilian infrastructure to make Beirut more amenable to ceasefire proposals acceptable to Jerusalem.

Stung by increasingly deadly rocket attacks and believing an imminent ceasefire to be unlikely, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met his senior security advisers yesterday to discuss proposals to reinforce and speed up the army's northward movement in order to push most of Hezbollah's rockets out of range of Israel.

"We are now in a process of renewed escalation," a senior general defence staff officer said. "We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah, but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure."

Although he did not mention specific civilian targets, Beirut's power grid would appear to be particularly vulnerable.

Another Israeli official said he expected no ceasefire for another two weeks.

With progress on the diplomatic front painfully slow, the Israeli Defence Force yesterday sharply escalated its ground and air war south and east of the port city of Tyre, from where Hezbollah guerillas are firing most of the rockets hitting northern Israel,

A barrage of at least 60 rockets was fired in quick succession from east of Tyre at 11am as unmanned Israeli drones circled nearby and warplanes roared overhead.

Warplanes repeatedly hit targets around the city, destroying the road south of the Litani River just before midday, effectively isolating southern Lebanon.

After 15 Israelis were killed by rockets at the weekend, military officers, politicians and commentators are advocating more aggressive action. "There is no way to stop the ceaseless barrage of rockets," wrote Ze'ev Schiff yesterday in the daily Ha'aretz, "without the Israel Defence Force undertaking a prompt, more extensive aerial and ground operation designed to neutralise Hezbollah rockets south of the Litani River, perhaps beyond."

The IDF estimates that 70per cent of Hezbollah's rocket arsenal consists of short-range weapons that must be fired south of the Litani in order to hit Israel.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is believed to closely read, in translation, articles written by Schiff, Israel's most respected military analyst.

Schiff's sentiments were echoed by Agriculture Minister Shaul Simhon, who said the Israeli army should push beyond the Litani River, 30km north of the border, to the Alawi River, 25km beyond that, if necessary.

"We have to get it into our heads that this is not just a military operation; this is war," Mr Simhon said. "We've got to stop going for surgical strikes and put down massive fire. We've been treading water."

Retired general Yoram Yair, a paratroop commander in the 1982 Lebanese war, noted yesterday that the Israeli army then faced 15,000 fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, with the Syrian army hovering not far away, inside Lebanon.

"Yet in 48 hours we were on the Alawi," he said. If the IDF undertook a similar push today, he said, "we could in 48 hours push most of the Katyusha rockets out of range".

Israelis are increasingly disturbed at the inability of the IDF to stop, or even diminish, the rocketing after almost a month of warfare. Hezbollah fired an average of about 100 rockets a day in the first weeks of the war but in the past week this has more often been close to 200.

Israel Radio said ground forces were expected to move on Tyre, although they remain about 20km south of the city.

Israeli sources said commandos destroyed several long-range rocket launchers near Tyre yesterday and killed three Hezbollah fighters before withdrawing.

Naval commandos had raided an apartment on Tyre's outskirts at the weekend and killed several Hezbollah commanders.

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