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Ground invasion of Lebanon looms after Israel bombs Beirut airport, imposes blockade
Following a major escalation of military strikes on Lebanon Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday ordered a further intensification of attacks by warplanes, heavy artillery and gunboats stationed off the Lebanese coast. Following a late-night meeting between Olmert and security officials, Israeli Army Radio quoted political sources as saying, “The decision was made to intensify Israel’s operations in Lebanon.”
Soon after, early Friday morning, Middle East time, Israeli aircraft struck the main highway linking Beirut with the Syrian capital, Damascus. That attack was aimed at consolidating the land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel on Lebanon on Thursday, and sending yet another signal to Syria that it might be targeted by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
Israel initially claimed its military assault, the biggest air attack on Lebanon in 20 years, was aimed at forcing Hezbollah, the political-military organisation that controls southern Lebanon and that captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid Wednesday, to return the soldiers. This was belied by the scale of the Israeli attack, and the Israeli government rapidly escalated its demands to encompass the removal of Hezbollah from its positions near the Israeli border.