Air Force Readies for Assault on Beirut in Retaliation for Hezbollah Attack on Haifa

Israel will demand that all Hezbollah forces withdraw from the Israeli border and that a buffer zone is created in southern Lebanon as a condition for any cease-fire agreement, Israeli political sources said yesterday.

The intensity of Israeli attacks against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon is expected to grow further today in response to a missile attack against Haifa last night. Likely targets include the Shi'ite neighborhood of Dahiya in southern Beirut.

Last night's attack against Israel's third-largest city was first thought be caused by an Iranian-made Fajr 3 missile, whose range is estimated at 45 kilometers. It was later determined that the attack was carried out by a Katyusha rocket. Israel considers the targeting of a major metropolitan area, as well as the use of advanced missiles, as a major escalation. Hezbollah also is believed to have more advanced versions of the Fajr that have a 75-kilometer range.

The Israel Defense Forces operation Just Reward, which began nearly 48 hours ago, aims to alter the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli political sources said.

In order to halt the onslaught, Israel will demand that Lebanon implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the deployment of Lebanese military forces along the southern border.

Israel is also planning to demand the release of two soldiers abducted by the Hezbollah Wednesday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, senior cabinet ministers and defense leaders met last night to assess the results of the operation against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. No land-based operations have been authorized thus far.

Olmert ordered the IDF to take action in order to put an end to the Hezbollah rocket attacks against northern Israel.

Commenting on the missile attack against Haifa, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said: "We had expected that Hezbollah would not hold back, but Israel will break this group. We have no intention of stopping the operation, and allowing the balance of power with Hezbollah to remain."

However, acknowledging the rocket blitz against Israeli towns yesterday, Peretz stressed that at this time, "Israel needs a strong home front."

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson will hold an emergency meeting this morning, and is expected to increase defense spending allocations in the 2007 state budget.

Meanwhile, the IDF is preparing to attack the Shi'ite neighborhoods of southern Beirut today in retaliation to the Haifa attack. At the center of the IDF plans is the neighborhood of Dahiya, an area where most of the Hezbollah offices and homes of senior officials are located.

"We are announcing this in advance in order to avoid hitting innocent people caught in the terrorist grasp of Hezbollah," IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said.

IDF sources yesterday rejected the claims of senior Hezbollah official Naim Qassam that the organization was not responsible for the attack against Haifa.

The IDF also killed one of Hezbollah's six regional commanders in southern Lebanon.

Syrian officials, meanwhile, warned Israel not to attack its territory.

Syrian parliamentarian, Mohammed Habash, told Al-A'alam, the Iranian television in Arabic, that Syria has extremist factions wishing to take action against Israel in the Golan Heights.

"There is a public movement in Syria demanding the liberation of the Golan, and it is willing to make sacrifices for the Golan," Habash said, promising that Israel would "pay dearly" if it attacked Syria.