Bomb kills two as Hizbollah attacks increase

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The Independent Online
A ROADSIDE bomb killed two Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon early yesterday in the latest in an upsurge of attacks by Hizbollah, the militant Islamic Lebanese group, in the past week. The attack was made against a patrol outside the village of Markaba, bringing to 17 the number of Israelis killed in Lebanon this year.

Israel fears Hizbollah is launching a new offensive using more sophisticated tactics than in the past to raise the number of Israeli casualties, which had decreased in recent months. In an attack 10 days ago bombers penetrated to within 30 yards of an Israeli base to plant devices that were later detonated by remote control. Lieutenant Uriel Peretz, 22, a company commander, and Sergeant Nitzan Baldran, 19, who were on patrol, were killed.

Israeli soldiers were reported to be looking for the body parts of the dead men. In the past, Hizbollah has exchanged such human remains for its prisoners held by Israel.

An increase in Israeli casualties is likely to revive calls for an Israeli withdrawal from its occupation zone in south Lebanon. These have diminished over the past year because of a fall in Israeli losses from Hizbollah attacks, which peaked in 1997.

In London, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, held talks with Tony Blair yesterday. Before the meeting he said he expected his coalition government to hold together and deliver a Middle East peace deal.

Mr Netanyahu's cabinet and party are divided over the limited withdrawal from the West Bank by Israel under the terms of the American-brokered land for security deal agreed at the Wye Plantation in Washington.

Before leaving for Britain Mr Netanyahu appeared close to shoring up his government by negotiating the return to his cabinet of David Levy, the former Israeli foreign minister who resigned earlier this yearin protest at the deadlock in talks with the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu is also holding talks with the opposition Labour Party about forming a national unity government. Ariel Sharon, the Foreign Minister, has been having talks with Ehud Barak, the Labour leader, although many Israeli commentators do not believe that Mr Netanyahu really intends to share power.