Israel resumes Lebanon offensive

Israeli aircraft pounded areas in south, east and northern Lebanon on Saturday, a day after Hizbollah``s chief declared an open war against the Jewish state following the bombardment of his stronghold in Beirut.

Beirut, July 15: Israeli aircraft pounded areas in south, east and northern Lebanon on Saturday, a day after Hizbollah`s chief declared an open war against the Jewish state following the bombardment of his stronghold in Beirut.

The strikes killed four civilians and wounded 16, security sources and witnesses said. One of the raids targeted a gas station in the city of Sidon, the largest in south Lebanon.

During a dramatic phone call to Hizbollah`s television, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced on Friday that the Lebanese guerrilla group had hit an Israeli warship off Beirut and threatened to launch deep strikes inside the Jewish state.

"You wanted open war. We are going to open war," he said. "The warship that destroyed our infrastructure ... look at it burn," he urged listeners.

Israel confirmed four of its sailors were missing after the strike, part of the bloodiest bout of violence in Lebanon in a decade, started by an attack on Wednesday in which Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight.

The Israeli army was still searching for its missing on Saturday. It said a civilian boat, possibly from Egypt, was also hit by a missile in the same attack that damaged its ship.

The violence in Lebanon coincided with an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip launched last month to try to retrieve another captured soldier and halt Palestinian rocket fire.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in Beirut following Nasrallah`s speech, which raised morale among his supporters after Israel imposed an air, sea and land blockade on the country and launched air strikes on roads, bridges and airports that have killed a total of 67 people, almost all civilians.

The Iranian- and Syrian-backed group, which wants to trade its captives for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, fired more rockets across the frontier on Friday, killing two Israelis.

Israeli air strikes destroyed Nasrallah`s apartment building and a main Hizbollah office in southern Beirut but an Israeli army spokeswoman would not say if the intention had been to kill the group`s charismatic leader.

Bureau Report

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