Haifa plunges into center of conflict

Eight killed in rocket attack at Haifa railway depot.

haifa street desterded (photo credit: AP)
haifa street desterded
(photo credit: AP)
Nonstop air raids on Hizbullah targets have destroyed "25 percent" of the terrorist group's military capabilities, a high-ranking IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post Sunday night. The officer added, however, that the IDF did not believe it could entirely destroy the group, although it could significantly impair its ability to launch rocket attacks at Israel, like the one on Sunday that killed eight Israelis when rockets landed in the Haifa Bay area. "We have hit them hard," the officer told the Post. "They are beginning to realize that they do not stand a chance at winning this war." On Sunday, over 30 Katyusha rockets were fired at northern Israel, bringing the total in five days to over 800. Late Sunday night, one fell in the Afula area, the furthest south to date. Just two hours after the fatal attack in Haifa, a second barrage of rockets landed in the city's port area and Nahariya. A third barrage hit the Haifa area on Sunday afternoon. Nobody was wounded in that attack. Air raid sirens had sounded immediately before the Katyushas hit. Fifteen soldiers suffered from smoke inhalation Sunday night after a Katyusha rocket landed near a military base in the North. Chief Intelligence Officer Brig.-Gen. Yuval Halamish said that Hizbullah had accumulated over 10,000 rockets in the past decade and that some had a 70-km range. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said Sunday afternoon that the advanced Fajar missiles that had been fired at Haifa in the morning were given to the organization by Syria. Discussing the impact of the IDF's attack so far on Hizbullah, the officer said that at least one more week would be needed by Israel to significantly hurt Hizbullah to the point that, while it would still retain the ability to launch rockets at Israel, it would decide not to do so, the officer said. "We do not believe we can destroy Hizbullah," the officer said. "But we can weaken it to the point that the group's leaders will not even think about launching rockets at Israel again." Israel, the officer said, had at least one more week to complete Operation Change of Direction before the international community upped the pressure on Jerusalem to lift its air, sea and land siege over Lebanon and end the almost hourly airstrikes on targets throughout the country. The officer added that Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was a target for Israel and that "anyone involved in terror against Israel, would be hunted down." Overnight Sunday, the IAF bombed Nasrallah's office and home in the Beirut neighborhood of Dahiya, a known Hizbullah stronghold. The IDF said that the Hizbullah headquarters in Beirut had been totally destroyed as had close to 60 buildings which served as homes and offices for terrorists in the Dahiya neighborhood. The officer added that the IDF was preparing for a ground invasion into Lebanon, but that in the foreseeable future Israel would hold off on such a move. "We believe that for now we can achieve our goals by the air," he said. "A ground operation is an option but we are for the moment holding off on it." A total of 100 targets were hit Sunday, the IDF reported. On Sunday one of Nasrallah's deputies was killed in an air strike on the city of Baalbek, the officer revealed. Another two high-ranking Hizbullah officials were killed in the southern city of Tyre in an air strike on a bunker hidden underneath a parking lot, the IDF reported. The air force said it used bunker-buster missiles to bomb the underground bunker. Since the Lebanon operation began, the IAF has launched close to 2,000 sorties over Lebanon. Bridges, roads and army bases were hit on Sunday, and electricity in large parts of Beirut was knocked out as the IDF imposed an air and sea blockade on Lebanon to pressure the government and force Hizbullah to free two IDF soldiers the guerrillas captured last Wednesday. On Sunday afternoon, the army called on the residents of south Lebanon to leave. Shortly thereafter, the IAF succeeded in hitting arms warehouses in southern Lebanon, as well as 20 mobile Katyusha launching crews in the area. Dozens of launchers were targeted. The IDF noted that it was largely focusing on destroying the rocket-launching crews, to prevent further bombardments of Israel's northern residents. Eight Canadians were killed Sunday in an Israeli air raid that hit a Lebanese town on the border with Israel, the Canadian government said. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said that besides the eight deaths, six other Canadians were in critical condition. So far, Israeli airstrikes have killed 130 people, Lebanese officials said. Earlier in the day, the IAF bombed the building in Beirut from which the Hizbullah-run television station, Al-Manar, is broadcast. The station went off the air for a short while after the airstrike but then resumed broadcasting about six minutes later. The station is Hizbullah's main communications link, and most of the information the world has received from the group about recent fighting has been issued by Al-Manar. It was the fourth time in recent days that the IDF has targeted the building. Before the Al-Manar strike, an IDF attack on Hizbullah's main headquarters in southern Beirut destroyed the compound and sprouted new rumors that Nasrallah was wounded in the strike. Hizbullah promptly denied any such rumor and Nasrallah later appeared on television, although looking tired and worn out.