BEIRUT, Lebanon—Israeli missiles destroyed the home and office of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah late Friday, but Nasrallah survived the attack and later vowed to respond with "open war."
Hezbollah seriously damaged an Israeli ship that was helping to enforce Israel's blockade of Lebanon, setting it ablaze with either a missile or an unmanned drone, Israeli military officials said. The ship headed back to Israel and was still burning hours after the attack. Earlier, Hezbollah rockets killed an Israeli woman and her grandson.
The incidents capped a day of steadily escalating violence as Israel pressed its military campaign to win the freedom of two soldiers seized Wednesday by Hezbollah militants on the Israel-Lebanon border. At least 65 Lebanese and 12 Israelis have died in the fighting.
Minutes after the attack on Nasrallah's building, Hezbollah's television station broadcast a taped message from Nasrallah promising wider war. Hezbollah said Nasrallah and his family were safe.
Israeli officials provided little information about the attack on the ship and wouldn't confirm reports that it had been hit by an unmanned drone. Hezbollah has been known to use unmanned drones, but those previously have been unarmed.
Israeli officials said their aim now wasn't just to recover the two Israeli soldiers, but also to force the Lebanese government to dismantle Hezbollah, force its military arm to disarm and send Lebanese troops to control its southern region, as the United Nations has demanded.
Despite growing international criticism of the Israeli campaign, there was little optimism in Beirut, Jerusalem, Washington or at the United Nations that the crisis could end quickly.
"It is sparing nobody and no area in Lebanon," Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told CNN on Friday. "Actually, it is cutting the country into pieces."
Israel resumed its air strikes Friday afternoon while the U.N. Security Council met in New York to debate Lebanon's demand for an immediate cease-fire.
But the meeting ended without any action, and White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that President Bush had rebuffed Saniora's request for help in securing a cease-fire with Israel.
"The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel," Snow said.
Israel launched its attacks on Lebanon after Hezbollah militants ambushed an Israeli patrol on Wednesday morning in a coordinated border clash that ended with eight Israeli soldiers dead and two others spirited away by gunmen.
After a failed attempt to prevent the militants from retreating into southern Lebanon with the soldiers, Israeli fighter jets began bombing bridges, roads and the Beirut airport. Missiles have hit the Hezbollah television station and areas of southern Lebanon, killing at least 65 and wounding nearly 200. In Israel, four civilians and eight soldiers have been killed in the three days of fighting, and more than 100 have received medical treatment, mostly for shock.
Minutes after the attack Friday night on Hezbollah headquarters, where Nasrallah has his home and office, the group's al Manar television station aired an audiotape of Nasrallah. He threatened to strike deep into Israeli territory, including the northern city of Haifa, which was hit by a rocket on Wednesday.
"You want an open war, we will give you an open war," Nasrallah said. "War, war on every level. To Haifa and, believe me, beyond Haifa."
The threat came as Hezbollah staged its most serious attack yet on Israel. The militant group fired more than 90 rockets at Israeli towns along the southern Lebanese border, killing two Israelis and injuring at least a dozen more.
Until recently, Hezbollah rockets were believed to have limited range and effectiveness. But after Haifa was hit on Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said the group's more advanced missiles could fly more than 40 miles, a range that could endanger more Israelis.
Many Israelis in the area spent their day popping in and out of bomb shelters. Military alerts warned people to stay off the streets.
Israel also was fighting on a second front against the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas' capture of an Israeli soldier on June 25. Early Saturday, it struck the Palestinian economic ministry. There were no reported casualties.
At the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting in New York, Lebanon's ambassador, Nouhad Mahmoud, called the Israeli attack "widespread barbaric aggression" designed to cripple his government.
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said Lebanon had been "held hostage to terror" for 30 years, and he blamed Iran and Syria for supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.
"Hezbollah is only the finger of the bloodstained long arms of Iran and Syria, which, together with Hamas and Hezbollah, constitute this world's most ominous, dangerous and lethal axis of terror," he said.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton also said that Syria and Iran had responsibility for the crisis.
In Tehran, Iranian government official Kazem Jalili rejected any links to the Hezbollah border assault.
"The resistance groups don't need our backup," Jalili told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview. "They have full control over their own destiny, they make their own decisions and they are responsible for their own actions. The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't need to interfere."
Jalili also scoffed at Israel's suggestions that Hezbollah was trying to move the captured Israeli soldiers to Iran.
"Iran would never want Israeli soldiers on its soil," he said.
America and Israel weren't the only ones blaming forces outside Lebanon for sparking the crisis.
On the streets of Beirut, taxi driver Mahmoud Haidar refused to drive tourists attempting to flee into neighboring Syria, even though the price he could charge had gone from $10 to $300 because of the attacks.
"I think the whole thing was encouraged by Syria," Haidar said. "They ruined the summer season and make the tourists who are in Lebanon go to Damascus."
(Raad, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Beirut, and Nissenbaum reported from Jerusalem. McClatchy correspondent Hannah Allam contributed to this report from Tehran, Iran.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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