JERUSALEM – After several days in which Hezbollah terrorists have fired hundreds of missiles into northern Israeli cities, officials here placed Tel Aviv under rocket alert for the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Tel Aviv is about 90 miles south of the Lebanese border.
Until the latest round of fighting began last Wednesday, Israeli and other intelligence agencies publicly estimated Hezbollah’s missile arsenal had a maximum range of approximately 45 miles.
The placing of Tel Aviv under rocket threat yesterday was tantamount to an admission by Israel that the country’s security agencies are not entirely sure of Hezbollah’s missile capabilities.
The decision also indicates Israeli officials are taking seriously threats issued over the weekend by Hezbollah’s secretary general, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
In a televised address yesterday, Nasrallah warned, “We will continue. We still have a lot more and we are just at the beginning. We promise [Israel] surprises in (any) confrontation.”
Nasrallah said his group can strike beyond Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, which was hit today, yesterday and last week with a barrage of missiles, killing eight people and wounding dozens.
“In view of the ongoing rocket attacks on Israel, residents living in Tel Aviv and to the north are urged to increase their vigilance,” stated a message from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.
The army told Tel Aviv residents that in the event of an incoming rocket, a siren will sound, alerting the public to seek shelter inside in a protected room or an area away from doors, windows and exterior walls.
Those caught outside at the time of the siren should enter a stairwell or get close to a wall or shelter and lie down, the army recommended.
While no missiles have hit Tel Aviv, Israeli officials are concerned Hezbollah may have projectiles capable of reaching the city as well as other locations across central Israel.
The Lebanese militia is known to possess thousands of 122mm Katyushas with a range of 12 miles and 107mm Katyushas with a range of five miles.
Hezbollah also is known to have several hundred Iranian-supplied 240-mm Fajr-3 rockets with a range of 25 miles and 333-mm Fajr-5 rockets with a range of about 45 miles. Each of the Fajr missiles are capable of carrying a 200-pound warhead. They can be launched from vehicles, making them relatively easy to move and conceal.
But Israeli officials say they now fear Hezbollah might possess a limited number of longer-range rockets, such as the Iranian-made Zelzal missiles with a range that could exceed 100 miles, making Tel Aviv a target.
At least eight Israelis were killed and many more were wounded yesterday morning when a Katyusha rocket struck an Israel Railways depot in Haifa.
Six more people were wounded today when a building in Haifa collapsed after a direct hit from a Katyusha rocket.
Also today, scores of Katyusha rockets hit locations in Safed, Tiberias, Kiryat Shmona, Acre, Tiberias, Talal, Julis, Abu Snan, Kafr Yassif and other towns and cities across the northern portion of Israel.
Speaking to his cabinet regarding the severity of the situation and the loss of life suffered in Haifa, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert today exclaimed it had been “a difficult morning for all of us.” However, he noted, “We have no intention to bow down before our enemies.”
The Israeli-Lebanese violence was instigated last Wednesday after a Hezbollah raid against Israel’s northern border military stations in which two soldiers were kidnapped and three soldiers were killed.
Four more Israeli soldiers died when their tank hit a mine two miles into Lebanese territory, apparently during an initial attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. The IDF sent troops across the border to search for the missing soldiers, marking the first incursion into Lebanon since Israel withdrew from there in May 2000.
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