Prepare for Iranian strike, Israelis told

JERUSALEM - Israel yesterday said it should prepare for a missile attack from Iran as a likely leader of peacekeeping in Lebanon called for Israeli troops to stop their shooting.

Italy said it was ready to lead peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and expected a decision by the weekend. But it called for an end to the exchanges that have threatened the week-long truce between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah.

Israelis, meanwhile, were being told to be ready for a potential attack from Hizbollah supporter Iran.

"We are liable to face an Iranian missile attack. The Iranians have said very clearly that if they come under attack, their primary target would be Israel," said Rafi Eitan, a member of the decision-making inner Cabinet.

Iran, which this week upset the West by saying it would not heed calls to suspend uranium enrichment, supported the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah in its war with Israel and its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

"We must prepare for what could come, and prepare the entire country for a missile strike attack, to prepare all the civilian systems so they are ready for this," Eitan said.

Israel Radio said Eitan, a former spymaster, meant that Israel should prepare its bomb shelters to protect against a possible Iranian attack.

It quoted Eitan as alluding to the current international standoff with Iran over its uranium enrichment, saying if the situation deteriorates, Israel would be the first to come under attack.

While shooting by Israeli troops at Hizbollah fighters showed the fragility of the week-old truce, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said his country was ready to lead a United Nations force in south Lebanon.

Prodi said he had informed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who would make a final decision on the command of the force this weekend.

Italy would provide about a third of the roughly 6000 to 8000 European troops in a UN force that would be supported by Spain, Holland, Belgium and other nations, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said.

"In the end, our troops, between 2000 and 3000, will represent about a third of the total sent from Europe."

But Italy would be unable to send troops if Israel "keeps shooting".

"From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire," D'Alema said. "It's fair to expect that Hizbollah put down their weapons."

President George W. Bush said that the United States was to boost its aid package to Lebanon to US$230 million ($360 million). The money would be used to help rebuild homes and infrastructure.

- REUTERS

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