BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah and Israel traded rocket and missile barrages for a sixth day today as warfare that has erupted in the Middle East showed no sign of easing.
Hezbollah rockets struck deep inside Israel, killing eight people in the northern city of Haifa, and Israel retaliated with waves of missiles from Lebanon’s north to south and into the Bekaa Valley near Syria.
The toll on both sides rose to above 200, most of them civilians, as strikes continued today. In addition to the Israeli victims at a rail repair facility in Haifa, an Israeli rocket blew up a Lebanese army position, killing eight soldiers, and a sea-launched missile killed at least nine people in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre.
Israel had warned of massive retaliation after the Haifa attack and accused Iran and Syria of having provided the weaponry used in it. Israeli military officials said four of the missiles were the Iranian-made Fajr-3, with a 22-mile range and 200-pound payload and far more advanced than the Katyusha rockets the guerrillas had rained on northern Israel earlier.
With violence rising in Lebanon, foreigners began to flee by the hundreds, and several nations drew up plans to get their citizens out. U.S. planners arrived to organize evacuation of any of the 25,000 Americans seeking to leave. Italian military flights rushed out some 350 people, mostly Europeans. France, which has more than 20,000 citizens in Lebanon, chartered a Greek ferry expected to pick up some 1,200 people today.
Early today, witnesses reported that waves of Israeli airstrikes hit the Lebanese city of Tripoli and Hezbollah strongholds in the eastern town of Baalbek. Barrages from gunboats also killed four in a village south of Beirut.
Eight Lebanese army soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded in an Israeli airstrike in the fishing village of Abdeh in northernmost Lebanon.
Israel, technically at war with Lebanon since 1948, said it had targeted radar stations in the north because Hezbollah had used them to hit an Israeli ship on Friday. Israel all but accused the Lebanese military of lending its support to Hezbollah.
“The attacks … are against radar stations used, among other things, in the attack on an Israeli missile boat by Hezbollah in cooperation with the Lebanese military,” an Israeli army spokesman told the Associated Press.
Both Israel and Hezbollah signaled that their attacks will intensify.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed “far-reaching consequences” for the Haifa attack, Hezbollah’s deadliest strike ever on Israel. The morning barrage of 20 rockets came after Israeli warplanes had unleashed their heaviest strikes on Beirut, flattening apartment buildings and blowing up a power station, cutting electricity to swaths of the capital.
Even before the latest Israeli retaliation, Israeli airstrikes had devastated southern Beirut, a teeming Shiite district that is home to Hezbollah’s main headquarters.
The Jiyeh power plant, on Beirut’s southern outskirts, was in flames after it was hit, cutting electricity to many areas in the capital and southern Lebanon. Firefighters pleaded for help from residents after saying they didn’t have enough water to put out the blaze.
Some residents of Beirut’s southern Shiite neighborhood, Dahiyah, ventured out of shelters to collect belongings from their shattered city blocks, where buildings had collapsed on their sides, were missing top floors or had been reduced to pancaked concrete. Many residents emerged from their destroyed apartments with bulging shopping bags or suitcases as Hezbollah gunmen urged them to leave quickly.
Large swaths of Beirut were covered with dust, and the city of 1.5 million was emptying as residents fled. The Israeli military warned residents of southern Lebanon to flee, promising heavy retaliation after the Haifa assault. “Nothing will deter us,” Olmert said.
Along with the attacks in Lebanon, Israel attacked along the second front where it is fighting – in Gaza. Fighter jets bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza City, and clouds of smoke rose from the building, which has been hit before. At least nine peo-ple in nearby houses were injured, rescue workers said.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said that despite the barrage, the guerrillas are “in their full strength and power” and their “missile stockpiles are still full.”
“When the Zionists behave like there are no rules and no red lines and no limits to the confrontation, it is our right to behave in the same way,” a tired-looking but defiant Nasrallah said in a televised address. He said Hezbollah had hit Haifa because of Israel’s strikes on Lebanese civilians.
Nasrallah tried to rally the Arab world around Hezbollah, saying the battle is an opportunity to deal Israel a “historic defeat.” Iran and Syria are prime supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas, raising fears they could be drawn into a regional war.
Still, Iran and Syria denied Israel’s claim that they had provided advanced missile technology to Hezbollah.
Syria warned Sunday that any aggression against it “will be met with a firm and direct response whose timing and methods are unlimited.”
Hundreds of motorists drove through Damascus on Sunday night with drivers and passengers waving Syrian and Hezbollah flags and honking horns.
Iran threatened “unimaginable damage” to Israel if Syria were attacked, and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Hezbollah is winning its fight against Israel and will not disarm.