A brutal salvo in long-range Mideast war: Civilians around the world are at risk in a deadly conflict between Israel and Hizbollah extremists, Robert Fisk reports from Beirut

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THE BOMB attacks on Israeli targets in London appear to provide further proof of the new and cruel war being fought out between Israel and its Muslim enemies in the Middle East. It is a war in which both sides are prepared to inflict massive civilian casualties - and which is already reminding the Lebanese of the vicious conflict between Palestinian and Israeli intelligence agents in the early 1970s.

The war has its origins in southern Lebanon, where the pro-Iranian Hizbollah - acting with the assistance and acquiescence respectively of the Syrian and Lebanese governments - are striking almost daily at Israel's occupation army inside Lebanon. But Islamic groups in the country say that the latest stage of the conflict began in February, 1992, when an Israeli helicopter pilot carried out the planned assassination of the Hizbollah leader Abbas Moussawi, along with his wife and young son, by firing a Hellfighter missile at their car as they drove back to Beirut from the village of Jibchit.

Six weeks after his death, the first bomb in Argentina exploded at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing both Israeli and Argentine civilians. A group calling itself 'Islamic Jihad' claimed responsibility for the explosion; Hizbollah was blamed by the Israelis. Then in July of 1993, Hizbollah attacked an Israeli convoy inside southern Lebanon, killing nine Israeli soldiers. In retaliation, Israeli artillery targeted southern Lebanon, killing more than 120 civilians - many of them women and children - and putting 300,000 refugees on to the roads north.

Last month, the Israelis struck at a Hizbollah training camp in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, killing at least 32 guerrillas and prompting warnings from one of Hizbollah's leaders in Baalbek that Muslims may 'strike back in Europe' or America. Six weeks later the second Argentine bomb exploded at the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. This time the civilian and largely Jewish death toll was almost 100.

The reality is that Hizbollah has adopted Israel's old policy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. On several occasions, Hizbollah have used the same terminology that the Israelis employ: they have warned of their 'long arm' stretching around the world.

But the violence committed by both sides has a further political context. The more Syria feels isolated by Israel's peace with the PLO and now Jordan, the less restraint it is likely to place upon Hizbollah, whose war against Israel in southern Lebanon has accompanied the tortuous peace talks between Syrians, Lebanese and Israelis. The longer these negotiations appear fruitless, the further the 'long arm' of the Israelis and Hizbollah is likely to stretch.