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Hezbollah Vows to Wage Open War on Israel


The leader of the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah has vowed to wage open war on Israel after an apparently failed attempt on the group's leader. Israel's military offensive in Lebanon intensified Friday as Israeli rockets pummeled southern Lebanon and targets around Beirut.

Hezbollah said its leader Hassan Nasrallah was unhurt after Israeli missiles blew up his home in Beirut and one of the group's offices. Israeli officials acknowledged that the strikes were aimed at killing him.

About an hour later, Nasrallah renewed his threats to Israel in a telephone speech broadcast by Hezbollah's TV station, Al-Manar.

"You wanted open war. We will have open war. Then he says, believe me, we will reach Haifa, and beyond Haifa, and beyond beyond Haifa," he said.

Hezbollah has fired scores of rockets into northern Israel since the violence began Wednesday. Two of them reached Israel's third-largest city of Haifa late Thursday, but caused no casualties. It is the furthest distance inside Israel that Hezbollah rockets have ever struck.

The Israeli military offensive in Lebanon began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a brazen cross-border raid. Israeli officials say they have information that the men are still alive. Israeli leaders have vowed to continue the operation until Hezbollah no longer has the capacity to attack Israel from southern Lebanon.

In his latest speech, Nasrallah exulted over an Israeli warship that he said was hit by Hezbollah artillery. He claimed it was on fire and about to sink. The Israeli army later said an Israeli navy ship in Lebanese waters had been lightly damaged by a rocket, but gave few details.

Nasrallah's statement was apparently pre-recorded and given to the TV station over the telephone.

Immediately after it ended, a series of dull thuds echoed across Beirut. It was not a new round of Israeli attacks, but volleys of fireworks lighting up the sky from Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold. Red tracer bullets pierced the darkness as celebratory gunfire erupted.

In another neighborhood, small bands of people drove through the streets, shouting God is great, apparently celebrating the Hezbollah leader's reported escape from Israeli attempt on his life.

Outside of Hezbollah's Shiite strongholds, other residents of Lebanon seemed at times terrified, at times resolute as Israel's attacks intensified. Many Lebanese have vowed not to leave, but some have abandoned their neighborhoods in favor of downtown hotels or areas that are thought to be less likely targets for the airstrikes.

In central Beirut, many shops have been closed, people are staying home from work, and traffic has been light. In the early evening, more explosions echoed through the mostly empty streets, sometimes preceded by sharp whistles of incoming artillery.

Small clusters of people formed around television sets in hotel lobbies, kebab shops and cafes, looking for news of the latest attacks.

The main road between Beirut and Damascus was closed early Friday after Israeli missiles rendered it impassable.

Even so, the roads to Syria remain the only way in or out of Lebanon. The Beirut airport was shut down on Thursday after the runways were hit by Israeli artillery, and they were hit again on Friday. The Israeli navy has been enforcing a blockade on Lebanese ports.

In the mountains of eastern Lebanon, hundreds of cars and buses wound their way toward the Syrian border along twisting, potholed back roads that were never designed to handle that much traffic. July is usually the height of tourist season, and thousands of seasonal visitors were fleeing the violence and trying to find their way home.

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