Clinton hits at Israeli assault

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The Independent Online
AS international criticism mounted yesterday of Israel's Lebanese bombardment, the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, received the full endorsement of his government and of the Israeli opposition for his policy of driving civilians out of southern Lebanon to isolate Hizbollah, the Lebanese Islamic militants.

The United States criticised Israel directly for the first time yesterday and said that the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, was in contact with key parties urging a ceasefire. 'I think Hizbollah should stop its attacks. I think Israel should stop the bombardments,' President Bill Clinton told reporters.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said it was 'deplorable that any government would consciously adopt policies that would lead to the creation of new flows of refugees and displaced persons'.

But last night there was no sign of a let-up of the air, sea and land attacks which have made up to 200,000 Lebanese into refugees, killing an estimated 80 civilians and wounding hundreds more. Particularly badly hit yesterday were areas in and around the port of Tyre and the southern town of Nabatiah.

Hizbollah fulfilled its pledge to continue the fight-back, firing more Katyusha rockets over Israel's northern border. Residents prepared for a fourth night in bunkers.

While refugees in the targeted areas spoke of 'burning hell', Mr Rabin told the Israeli parliament that he regretted the suffering of refugees but vowed they would never return to their homes while Hizbollah guerrillas continued fighting. 'We are steadfast in our decision to continue to act to achieve our aims,' he said.

Israel launched its fiercest assault on Lebanon in 10 years on Sunday with the stated intention of eliminating Hizbollah, and militant Palestinian factions, who oppose the peace process and have increased their attacks on Israeli forces who occupy a strip of land in south Lebanon as a 'security zone'.

As the conflict has intensified, however, Mr Rabin's action looks more likely to damage the peace process. With no evident military success in sight against Hizbollah, Israel appears set on a course of escalating military involvement.

Israeli military chiefs declared satisfaction with the success of the 'exodus' strategy, but military intelligence sources conceded that while 150,000 civilians had fled, Hizbollah had increased its forces in the south.

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