Roadside bombs planted by Hizbollah, the Lebanese Islamic guerrillas, killed four Israeli soldiers and wounded a further 11 yesterday. The attacks, coming after the death of 11 Israeli naval commandos in a Hizbollah ambush last month, are sure to increase pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to get Israel out of Lebanon, where 41 of its soldiers have been killed in fighting this year.
The soldiers died in what appears to have been a double ambush, according to Lebanese security officials. In the first, near the village of Markaba close to the Israeli border, two soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in an explosion. Less than an hour later, another roadside bomb blew up by an Israeli unit several hundred yards away from the first attack, killing four soldiers and wounding others.
Hizbollah guerrillas then fired barrages of rockets at the sites of the bombings, causing panic among motorists. Israeli soldiers sealed off the area, residents hurriedly went indoors and shops closed.
The attack will be bad news for Mr Netanyahu, who in the early hours of yesterday morning, drove to the Erez checkpoint with Gaza to meet with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in the presence of Dennis Ross, the United States special envoy. Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders feel under pressure after the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic organisation.
Although no breakthrough was reported, Mr Ross said it marked a good beginning "because the leaders committed themselves to overcome all the differences". He said the two sides had agreed to meet regularly in future. However, Mr Arafat will look for an Israeli commitment not to expand settlements on the West Bank.
Mr Netanyahu is in a difficult position because for the past year he has said that there would be no progress in peace talks until Mr Arafat rounded up members of Hamas, but he himself has now released the organisation's leader. Sheikh Yassin says he has already asked Mr Arafat for Hamas institutions to be reopened. He said: "Why close an institution that teaches children or gives humanitarian aid. They have done nothing illegal."
Despite Mr Ross's optimism, Mr Netanyahu may simply want to do something to divert the Israeli media from focusing exclusively on the scandal surrounding the failed assassination attempt on Khalid Meshal, a Hamas leader, in Jordan by Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence organisation. A senior official was quoted yesterday as saying that the other Israeli intelligence chiefs were prepared "to undergo a lie detector test" to prove that Danny Yatom, the head of Mossad, did not tell them of his plan.Reuse content