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1996: Israel launches attack on Beirut

Israeli planes and helicopters have launched air strikes against targets in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for the first time in nearly 14 years.

At least five people were killed and several wounded in the attacks on the Syrian-controlled Beka'a Valley, the Hezbollah stronghold of Iklim al-Tuffah in south Lebanon and the coastal road between Beirut and Sidon and Tyre.

The assaults on pro-Iranian Hezbollah targets are retaliation for rocket attacks two days ago on northern Israeli settlements.

Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi said Israel would "chase Hezbollah everywhere".

"We want to drive home the message to the Lebanese and whoever helps Hezbollah that going on with this will be very costly and painful."

Boy killed

In the past few weeks Hezbollah has carried out a number of attacks in which seven Israeli soldiers and three Lebanese civilians have been killed.

Hezbollah says the barrages are in revenge for a bomb it blamed on Israel which killed a boy in a south Lebanon village.

With a general election in Israel looming, Prime Minister Shimon Peres felt compelled to take decisive action.

The attack on Beirut sent shockwaves through the city which thought it had seen the last of war after PLO leader Yasser Arafat was forced to leave after sustained Israeli assaults in August 1982.

Panic-stricken motorists clamped their hands on the car horns and blasted their way through traffic jams.

In the Sahel hospital a young man with a bloodied face was surrounded by television cameras. He told them: "I was walking in the street and all I remember is s flash and then I found myself covered in blood."

Israel said the attacks were aimed at Hezbollah's "primary operational headquarters". But later reports said the building survived intact.

The raids are a challenge to Syria and likely to delay the next stage of the Middle East peace process - an attempt to reach agreement between Syria and Israel.

Although Lebanon is not directly involved in the process, the country has a heavy Syrian military presence and the attacks may give Syria an excuse to delay the next part of the negotiations.

Israel holds Syria responsible for allowing Hezbollah to continue rocketing the communities in the northern region of the Jewish state.

It is also punishing Lebanon for failing to prevent the Hezbollah attacks.

The United States administration is urging restraint but it has refused to condemn Israel's actions.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher said: "Fundamentally the problem is created by [Hezbollah's] rocket attacks into northern Israel."

In Context
Israel's bombardment of Lebanon became known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. It lasted 16 days.

Although Israel apologised for civilian casualties, it blamed Hezbollah for provoking the attacks.

The worst attack of the operation came on 18 April when Israel pounded a UN base at Qana and killed more than 100 refugees.

The Israeli Army had boasted it could hit the Hezbollah rocket-launching sites with total accuracy.

On 26 April the US negotiated a truce and an "understanding" under which Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas agreed not to attack civilians in northern Israel, and recognised Israel's right to self-defence.

Hezbollah retained the right to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Lebanon and Syria did not sign the "understanding" but the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), with members from the US, France, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, was set up to monitor the truce.

In 1999 Lebanese troops withdrew from the Israel security zone it had occupied since 1985.

In turn Israel agreed to pull out of southern Lebanon by July 2000. The troops eventually withdrew six weeks ahead of schedule in May 2000.

In July 2006, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, Israeli forces attacked southern Lebanon and Beirut by air, land and sea.

About 1,100 civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes. Hezbollah responded with rocket attacks on northern Israel, killing at least 43 civilians.

A UN-brokered ceasefire came into force on 14 August 2006.

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