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New rocket has Israel on alert

No one was hurt in Hezbollah's deepest strike, but Israel takes it as a sign to guard Tel Aviv.

Published July 29, 2006

TYRE, Lebanon - Hezbollah launched a new kind of rocket Friday that made its deepest strike into Israel yet, rattling Israelis as their warplanes and artillery blasted apartment buildings and roads, gunning for guerrillas.

Lebanese officials said about 12 civilians died in the day's fighting; Israel said it killed 26 militants.

Hezbollah's launching of the new weapon unnerved Israelis, and the rocket firing was likely to escalate fighting that started July 12.

The guerrillas said they used the Khaibar-1 - named after the site of a historic battle between Islam's prophet Mohammed and Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula - to strike the Israeli town of Afula.

Five of the rockets crashed into empty fields outside Afula, causing no injuries. Still, Israel deployed a Patriot interceptor missile battery north of Tel Aviv, believing the area could be in range of Hezbollah.

Israel said the Khaibar-1 rockets were renamed, Iranian-made Fajr-5s. Fajr-5s have a range of about 45 miles and a maximum payload of about 440 pounds of explosives. That's four times the power and range of Katyusha rockets, hundreds of which have hit northern Israel in the current fighting. On Friday, 96 Katyushas hit Israel, and one struck a hospital.

The Afula strike came two days after Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, vowed his guerrillas would fire rockets beyond Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, which has been hit repeatedly in the conflict.

Late Friday, the Israeli army said it killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas in fighting for the Shiite town of Bint Jbail. The army did not report Israeli casualties.

Hezbollah has verified 35 guerrilla casualties, but Israel says it has killed about 230. The competing claims could not be resolved independently.

The Israel army said a half-million Israelis were living in shelters in northern Israel. U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland told CNN that 800,000 Lebanese had fled or were caught in crossfire.

At least 445 people have been killed in Lebanon in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to a Health Ministry count Friday based on bodies taken to hospitals. But Lebanon's health minister estimated Thursday that as many as 600 Lebanese civilians have been killed. At least 12 civilians were reportedly killed in Israeli strikes Friday.

On the Israeli side, 33 soldiers have died in fighting, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians, the Israeli army said.

The Israeli offensive began after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers in a cross-border raid into Israel. The war with Hezbollah opened a second front for Israel, which was already battling Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants seized a soldier June 25.

Israeli tanks and troops pulled back to the Israel-Gaza border Friday after an unusually deadly incursion that killed 30 Palestinians over three days. The army said the withdrawal was temporary.

[Last modified July 29, 2006, 02:14:20]

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