BEIRUT, Lebanon Jul 13, 2006 (AP) Israel intensified its attacks against Lebanon on Thursday, blasting Beirut's international airport and the southern part of the country in its heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years. Nearly three dozen civilians were killed, officials said.
The strikes on the airport, which damaged three runways, came hours before Israel imposed an air and naval blockade on Lebanon to cut off supply routes to militants.
The shockwaves from the fighting began to be felt a day after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. The escalation of violence in the Middle East pushed crude oil prices to a new intraday record of $75.88 a barrel. Western countries, Russia and the United Nations called for restraint and demanded the soldiers be released.
Israel said it was seeking to end once and for all Hezbollah's presence on Lebanon's southern border, while the guerrillas insisted they would only release the soldiers in exchange for Israel freeing Arab prisoners.
In a stark warning, the Israeli army chief said Thursday that Israel's air force is prepared to strike anywhere in Lebanon, including the capital of Beirut, if the Lebanese government fails to rein in Hezbollah guerrillas.
"We are not at war, but we are in a very high volume crisis, and we have an intention to put an end to the situation here along the northern border," Brig. Gen. Dan Halutz said in Jerusalem.
The airport, located in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, was closed after the attacks and flights were diverted to nearby Cyprus. It was the first time since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut that the airport was hit by Israel.
Israel also fired a missile at the building housing the studios of Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday morning, the channel's press officer Ibrahim Farhat told The Associated Press. One person was hurt, but the station continued to broadcast.
Overnight Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon killed 35 civilians and wounded dozens more, Lebanese security officials said. A family of 10 and another family of seven were killed in their homes in the village of Dweir near Nabatiyeh, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.