Israel hits back at Hizbollah after 8 soldiers are killed

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL'S claim that its bombardment of Lebanon last month, in which 130 Lebanese civilians died, had curbed the pro-Iranian militants of Hizbollah, was severely undermined yesterday when Hizbollah fighters killed eight Israeli soldiers inside Israel's 'security zone'.

Seven died in a morning roadside explosion at Shihin, three miles north of the Israeli border; another died near by last night. In turn, Hizbollah said two guerrillas were killed when Israeli aircraft bombed three of Bekaa Valley bases in retaliation.

Shihin village is on the edge of the zone Israel has carved out of southern Lebanon. United Nations peace-keepers said three bombs were detonated there at 7.40am local time. Survivors were then raked with machine-gun fire.

'Today's operation is a new lesson for Israel,' said the Hizbollah deputy chief, Sheikh Naim Qassem. 'The enemy thought its aggression (last month) would weaken the resistance. But it discovered today that the more the pressure is increased on our nation the more determined our nation becomes to resist. We will continue fighting until our land is liberated.'

Last night Ehud Barak, the Israeli Chief of Staff, accused Syria of 'turning a blind eye' to Hizbollah attacks on the Israeli-held zone. Although there had been none inside Israel since last month, Mr Barak said hopes that the Lebanese army, with Syrian encouragement, might restrain the guerrillas had proved mistaken. The Lebanese army was 'neither capable nor willing do to so', he said. The US condemned yesterday's attacks by Hizbollah.

The Israeli warplanes' targets in the Bekaa Valley were close to Syrian positions, according to Israeli analysts, suggesting that Israel is backing up warnings to Damascus with military threats, as it did at the start of last month's bombing.

Lebanese civilians prepared to flee - as 250,000 did in July - fearing Israel would again turn its guns on the villages. However, the Israeli government, which blacked out news of the attacks, appeared uncertain about how to respond. Renewed mass bombardment was clearly not an immediate option so near the last assault, which also came after the deaths of seven Israeli soldiers.

Mr Barak said Israel was fighting 'a war of attrition' in the zone. Since the ceasefire Hizbollah has planted five devices similar to those that exploded yesterday.

'Lesson for Israel', page 10

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 20