World

Hezbollah leader vows 'open war' on Israel

The leader of Hezbollah vowed open war against Israel on Friday as Israeli military strikes destroyed the organization's headquarters in Beirut.

The leader of Hezbollah vowed "open war" Friday as Israel tightened its grip on Lebanon,destroyingHezbollah's headquarters in Beirut and smashing roads and runways around the city.

Shortly after the headquarters was bombed, the organization's official television station, Hezbollah TV, played a recorded audio address from Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the group's secretary general. It's not clear when the recording was made, butNasrallah did not mention the missile strike.

"You want an open war, we will go to the open war," he said, according to reports. "We are ready for it. War, war on every level."

Less than an hourbefore the audiotape aired, witnesses inBeirutreported at leastfour loud booms in thecity's southern Haret Hreik neighbourhood,the site ofHezbollah's headquarters. It was not clear whether the missiles came from Israeli planes or warships.

The attack on the headquarters came amid reports an Israeli woman and a four-year-old girl were killed by a Hezbollah rocket in the northern Israeli town of Meron.

Four Israeli civilianshave been killed since the Hezbollah rocket attacks started on Wednesday.

Also Friday, Israeli military officials saidone of theirnaval ships in Lebanese watershad been hit by an unmanned Hezbollah aircraft rigged with explosives, causing a fire and heavy damage and leaving four sailors missing.

A search had been launched for the missing men, the military officials said. Hezbollah has sent unmanned spy drone aircraft over Israel in the past two years.

Highway, airport bombed

Earlier in the day, Israeliplanes blasted Beirut's international airport andHezbollah strongholds in southernLebanon.

The main highway between Beirut and Damascus, Syria, was also bombed. Three people were killed and 55 wounded in the air strikes, police said Friday.

Beirut airport officials said one of three runways was hit by an Israeli missile at mid-morning Friday.

For its part, Hezbollah continued to fire rockets into northern Israel.

More than 55 people were killed on Thursday in the first wave of Israeli strikes against the airport and two Lebanese military bases. Israel's navy is enforcing a blockade of Lebanese ports.

Israel's military campaign was launched in retaliation for an attack by Hezbollah forces on Wednesday in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and taken into Lebanese territory.

Eight other Israeli soldiers were killed in skirmishes along the border.

Israel has said it holds Lebanon responsible for the capture of its two soldiers and will continue to intensify military pressure until they are released.

This is the most intense Israeli military action against Lebanon since Israel invaded and occupied Beirut 24 years ago. Israel withdrew the last of its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, easing tensions between the two countries.

Second front

The air strikes opened a second front in Israel's conflicts with its neighbours overthe captureof its troops. It has been hammering Gaza for weeks in a campaign to force the release of Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old corporal seized by Palestinian militants on June 25.

International concern is mounting that the violence could spread. The European Union has criticized Israel for a "disproportionate response."

The Israeli military said the airport strike and the blockade are intended to cut off supplies to Hezbollah, and that the Lebanese government must move to clamp down on the Beirut-based militants.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Hezbollah raid an "act of war," and said military action against Lebanon and Hezbollah would intensify until the soldiers are released.

With files from the Associated Press