Israelis hit by revenge blitz

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF residents of northern Israel were spending a second night in bomb shelters last night, after Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon rained down on their homes, wounding 13 civilians.

Hizbollah, the Islamic Shia "Party of God" militia, was retaliating yesterday for an Israeli air strike on Tuesday, which killed a Lebanese woman and her six children in the Bekaa valley of eastern Lebanon. Israel apologised for the bombing, blaming the tragedy on technical malfunction or pilot error. The crew, it said, was aiming at a radio transmitter 300 yards away from the woman's home.

Hizbollah, which has been waging a hit-and-run war of attrition since 1985 with Israeli troops occupying a self-proclaimed "security zone" inside Lebanon, was not appeased.

"Once again," it said after yesterday's rocketing, "the resistance has fulfilled its promise to protect our territory and our civilians.

"Violence must be answered by violence. Their blood must be spilt for ours."

According to Reuters, 28 civilians have now been killed in the confrontation this year, almost all of them Lebanese. The guerrillas lost 37 fighters and Israel 20 soldiers in the same period.

The Katyusha surface-to-surface rockets wrecked a bank and houses in Kiryat Shmona, a favourite target for such attacks, and cut electricity supplies, but most of the Israeli casualties were light. Anticipating the revenge operation, the army had ordered the population into shelters.

Lebanese security sources said 60 rockets were fired.

"There is tremendous damage to property," Haim Barbivai, Kiryat Shmona's mayor, said, "but the people were in the shelters. We were ready for this situation. The rockets fell at the very hour the children are driven to school. I'm glad they stayed home today."

This week's violence has revived calls in Israel for the government to withdraw the army from southern Lebanon. Yossi Beilin, a minister in the last Labour administration, said yesterday: "There is no need to stay in a security zone that is not ours, which has not succeeded in preventing Katyusha or other problems, or the killing of soldiers."

In Gaza yesterday, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, from house arrest. Sheikh Yassin was confined to his home on 29 October after one of the group's suicide bombers attacked an Israeli school bus.