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Israel Pounds Beirut as Hezbollah Rockets Hit Israel


Israel has carried out more air strikes against targets in Lebanon as Hezbollah militants retaliated by firing rockets deep into Israel. The Israeli government has brushed off a call by the United Nations and Britain for an international force to restore calm to the Middle East.

Israeli warplanes struck Beirut for a sixth day, targeting Beirut's port and southern suburbs - where Hezbollah militants are based. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened further retaliation saying the militant group has the capability to wage "total war" against Israel.

Hezbollah rockets struck the Israeli towns of Afula and Nazareth, more than 40 kilometers from the Lebanese border, the furthest south any Hezbollah rockets have struck so far.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised "far reaching consequences" for an earlier attack on Haifa. Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen says that efforts are underway to curb the Hezbollah attacks.

"We are trying to pinpoint the different rockets and fire and target them in Lebanon," she said. "There is no question that they [Hezbollah] have an advantage being able to fire them. Israel will continue to attack any place we know that there are rockets or that rockets have been fired."

International efforts to end the fighting are increasing. A United Nations mission will travel to Israel on Tuesday after holding talks with Lebanese officials.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at the Group of Eight summit in Russia on Monday endorsed the idea of a peacekeeping force to bring calm to the region.

Eisen says Israel will welcome any international effort to implement U.N. resolution 1559 on Lebanon, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese military on Israel's northern border and for the disarming of militant groups such as Hezbollah. However, she says Israel does not believe an international peacekeeping force would be up to the task.

"When it comes to the United Nations forces, let me point out that there has been a dissonance between the declared United Nations policy when it comes to Security Council Resolution 1559 and the actions of United Nations forces in Lebanon who have been there since 1978," said Eisen.

Leaders of the world's largest industrialized nations meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia called for an end to rocket attacks against Israel and a halt to Israeli military operations in Lebanon. The fighting began last week when Hezbollah forces crossed into Israel and kidnapped two soldiers. That came two weeks after Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip had seized an Israeli corporal, leading to Israeli attacks in Gaza.

President Bush said he welcomed the G-8 statement. U.S. officials have called on Israel to exercise restraint but say an immediate ceasefire would not end the crisis.

Also Monday, an Israeli soldier was killed and six others wounded in the West Bank city of Nablus, in an ambush by Palestinian militants. The attack came shortly after an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip destroyed the headquarters building of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian foreign ministry in Gaza City.

Israeli police reported Monday that they had detained a Palestinian man who they suspect was en route to carrying out a suicide bombing. Police say the man was carrying a bag containing explosives.

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