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Israel strikes militant stronghold in Beirut

Israel declares state of emergency; Hezbollah rocket fire continues

Smoke rises Saturday after an Israeli airstrike on Dahiya, a southern suburb of Beirut.



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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel took its fight against Hezbollah back into the Lebanese capital's southern suburbs, targeting a militant stronghold in Dahiya, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The Jerusalem Post reported in its Friday editions that the IDF was threatening to strike the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut if Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israeli cities continued.

Israeli jets earlier this week targeted Hezbollah's headquarters in Beirut and the city's international airport, and the Israeli Air Force continued on Saturday and Sunday to conduct airstrikes on Beirut and other targets around Lebanon.

As of Saturday, at least 100 Lebanese and 13 Israelis had been killed, according to Lebanese and Israeli sources.

Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said late Saturday that "if Hezbollah is disarmed, you'll have an immediate de-escalation of the crisis."

In the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, the normally bustling harbor was quiet. None of the fishermen have been out to sea since Israel established a blockade of Lebanese ports. (Watch as Sidon is cut off from Lebanon -- 2:56)

"Every day we don't go out, we don't have food on the table. I don't know how much longer we can keep this up," one fisherman said.

On Saturday children and adults ran into the streets of Sidon to snatch up leaflets dropped from Israeli aircraft. The leaflets had a caricature of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as a serpent and read: "Is the resistance ... helping Lebanon? The resistance ... is destroying Lebanon!"

Airstrikes have destroyed the bridge between Sidon and Beirut, leaving roads deserted. Israeli warplanes also struck northern Lebanon near its border with Syria.

'War machine'

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Saturday called Israel's military a "war machine" and said attacks had turned his country into a "disaster zone."

Israel later declared a state of emergency in the northern Galilee region, Regev said.

The declaration allows the Israeli government to close public institutions such as schools, shopping malls and restaurants in northern Israel, where Hezbollah has been aiming its rockets since the crisis began, Regev said.

Hezbollah again on Saturday launched scores of rockets from Lebanon into Israel.

Israeli warplanes, meanwhile, struck Lebanese port cities, the capital Beirut and the border area near Syria on the fourth day of violence triggered by the capture of two Israeli soldiers Wednesday. Israel has vowed to free the soldiers.

Siniora called for an immediate U.N.-backed cease-fire and international help to stop Israel's attacks.

A cease-fire, he said, will allow Lebanon to "establish its sovereignty over all its lands" based on the 1949 armistice agreement.

"We are pained as well as angry yet determined and patient," Siniora said, adding that "these are hours for unity, not for division."

He said Israel was "punishing all Lebanese collectively, with their actions lacking any moral or legal legitimacy."

In remarks Saturday, Siniora reiterated that the Lebanese government had no knowledge of Hezbollah's plans.

Israel blames Lebanon

In response, Regev said Lebanon had triggered the crisis by failing to disarm Hezbollah. He further called Israel's offensive "surgical" and Hezbollah's "indiscriminate."

"This whole crisis was initiated by aggression by Lebanon into Israel," Regev said.

If Siniora "had done his job correctly," followed relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and disarmed Hezbollah, "this crisis would have been averted," Regev added.

Israel is willing to implement a cease-fire in accordance with those resolutions, he said.

Israel intensified its attacks from air, sea and land Saturday on targets such as Beirut and the ports of Tripoli, Amchit and Junieh, according to Lebanese media.

Israeli warplanes hit Hezbollah's main headquarters in Beirut, which was struck Friday as well, according to Lebanese interior ministry officials. No casualties were reported from those strikes, the officials said.

The IDF confirmed the aerial attack, saying, "The state of Israel warned the Lebanese population who are present at the compound or around it, using leaflets and different means of communication, to stay clear from the site for their own safety."

Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language TV channel, reported that the headquarters of Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, was targeted.

Israel also said it had attacked the Beirut headquarters of Hamas, the Palestinian movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority government. (Watch the ties between Hezbollah and Hamas -- 2:25)

Minibus hit

Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike near Tyre hit a minibus carrying 20 civilians, killing at least 15 of them, Lebanese internal security sources said.

The IDF said it was making "every effort" to avoid civilian casualties, adding: "Responsibility for endangering civilian population rests on the Hezbollah terror organization, which operates and launches missiles at Israel from populated civilian areas."

More than 75 rockets were fired at Israeli towns on Saturday, the IDF said.

One barrage struck Nahariya, a northwestern town near the Lebanese border. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The town has been targeted since the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese-based guerrilla group started Wednesday.

To guard against Katyusha rockets, missile batteries were deployed in Haifa, video from the scene showed.

Body found

After more than 12 hours, the Israeli military Saturday located the body of one of four sailors missing since Friday after a Hezbollah missile hit an Israeli warship, the IDF confirmed.

The IDF initially said the boat was struck by an unmanned aircraft packed with explosives. But Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said Saturday that it was a Chinese-made C-802 missile.

On Hezbollah-run Al Manar television, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli warship and called it "just the beginning." He also declared "open war" with Israel. (Watch Nasrallah say Hezbollah is ready for war -- 2:14)

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. The group holds 23 of the 128 seats in Lebanon's parliament. (What is Hezbollah?)

Other developments:

  • Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the Middle East peace process "dead." Speaking at a news conference after a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, he said the peace process failed "because certain powers have given Israel every capacity to do whatever it wishes."
  • On Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia, U.S. President Bush called on Syria to urge Hezbollah to lay down its arms and placed the blame for the violence on Hezbollah and its backers in Damascus. (Full story)
  • The U.S. State Department on Saturday is fine-tuning plans to evacuate Americans in Lebanon, estimated to number around 25,000, to nearby Cyprus. (Full story)
  • The Mideast violence has been blamed for surging oil prices, and Wall Street has been pummeled in the process. (Watch how the Mideast crisis is hitting your wallet -- 2:07)
  • CNN's John Vause, Richard Roth, Paula Hancocks, Alessio Vinci, and Sandy Petrykowski contributed to this report.

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