IAF Bombardment Closes Beirut Airport

Israel Defense Forces intensified its attacks on targets in Lebanon yesterday evening as part of the ongoing operation Just Reward. For the second time in 24 hours, Israel Air Force jets attacked Beirut International airport last night, setting fuel tanks ablaze and effectively closing the country's only international air facility, according to Lebanese sources.

More than 100 targets were attacked from the air and with artillery, causing an estimated 48 deaths and hundreds of injured. Among the targets were Hezbollah arms depots, 17 bridges throughout the country, airfields, and broadcasting stations.

The Israeli military said it struck the airport, because it is "a central hub for the transfer of weapons and supplies to the Hezbollah terrorist organization."

In parallel, the Israel Navy struck targets along the Lebanese beach front. Hezbollah positions along the border area were destroyed by artillery fire.

Following a full day of strikes, Hezbollah's rocket attack against Haifa last night triggered an intensification of the IDF operation, which culminated in the closing of the Beirut airport.

In addition to destroying fuel dumps at the site, aircraft attacked two runways, leaving a third, emergency runway operational. All flights to Beirut have been canceled or diverted to nearby Cyprus. Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national air carrier, has diverted most of its fleet of aircraft to Cypriot airports.

Both of Lebanon's military airports were also bombed by the IAF.

The Hezbollah television station in Beirut, Al-Manar, was also targeted. IDF sources explained that the attack stemmed from the role the station played in instigating attacks against Israel, and in broadcasting training films for Palestinians on how to prepare and carry out terrorist attacks.

The Israel Navy also tightened the blockade imposed on Lebanon, preventing all ships from entering or exiting Lebanese ports. All naval vessels that approached Lebanon's territorial waters were identified and ordered away.

Highway hit

Israel's air force is also busy cutting off land communications between Syria and Lebanon by targeting the main Damascus-Beirut highway.

Israeli military sources quickly pointed out that "for now, Syria is out of the game," suggesting that no Syrian targets were being considered at this stage.

However, since the attacks began nearly 48 hours ago, an exodus of civilians from Beirut toward Syria was evident. Many of those leaving are Saudi Arabian citizens who were vacationing in the Lebanese capital. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Damascus announced that his country's national carrier was adding extra flights to evacuate citizens from the area.

IDF sources estimated yesterday that the attacks have caused serious damage to the Lebanese economy including the crippling strike against the country's tourist industry at the peak of the season.

The air force yesterday invested a great deal of effort in finding and destroying Hezbollah rocket batteries and depots, including a major depot south of Sidon in southern Lebanon.

Intelligence collected over recent years estimate that Hezbollah has accumulated 12,000 rockets.

A significant portion of the rockets destroyed were hidden in the homes of Hezbollah members in southern Lebanon, or civilians willing to store them in return for payment.

The IDF maintains that most of those killed in its strikes have not been civilians, but members of Hezbollah or agents employed by them. Lebanese sources claim that the dead are civilians.

Other Hezbollah targets destroyed yesterday included vehicles carrying militants and rockets.

The IDF also issued an order that any armed person within one kilometer from the border fence will be targeted immediately.

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz warned that "nothing is safe" in Lebanon, and said Beirut itself, particularly Hezbollah offices and residences, would be a target.

Halutz said that the operation is meant to force the Lebanese government to take action to end terrorism directed from its territory against Israel, and demanded that it take control of its southern border through the deployment of the Lebanese army.

"We must continue to operate in order to restore our deterrent capability in the north," he said. "The government of Israel has authorized the IDF to operate as required. We will not restrain from attacking any relevant target in this confrontation."