Rockets drown out talk of ceasefire

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Both Hizbollah and the Israeli army continued their battle in southern Lebanon yesterday despite American insistence that a ceasefire is imminent in the aftermath of Thursday's Israeli massacre of Lebanese refugees at a United Nations compound.

Salvoes of Katyusha rockets - 50 in all - were fired into Israel by Hizbollah guerrillas while Israeli jets staged at least nine air raids, half of them south of Tyre. At midday, Israeli missile boats cut the coast road between Beirut and Sidon by firing at civilian traffic on the highway.

The prospects for a Hizbollah Israeli ceasefire thus remained a good deal less promising in Lebanon than they appeared in the United States and Europe. A statement from staff of the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to the effect that both Syria and Lebanon had "agreed" to a ceasefire seems to mean only that both Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, and Farouq al-Sharaa, the Syrian Foreign Minister, were working to bring one about - and then only a truce of a few days in which further discussions would be held to clarify a long-term agreement.

In Lebanon, this is the sort of schedule that is usually doomed to failure. The US, loyally echoing Israel's demands, is still insisting that the Hizbollah must be disarmed and that the 1993 agreement between the two antagonists - which forbad attacks on Lebanese and Israeli civilians - should be only a basis for discussions.

Mr Hariri has repeatedly stated that as long as Israeli troops continue to occupy part of southern Lebanon, Lebanese citizens - be they Hizbollah or anyone else - have the right to resist those occupation forces. Why, Mr Hariri asked yesterday, should Hizbollah be disarmed in order to make Israel's occupation more comfortable?

Both Syria and Lebanon are also well aware that Israel's Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, after the Israeli massacre of refugees at Qana, desperately wants to wind up his pre- electoral military adventure in Lebanon - and see no reason why he should be rewarded with a ceasefire brought about by the savagery of his own army's bombardment.

Israel has been further threatened by an anonymous telephone caller claiming to speak for the "Organisation of the Oppressed on Earth" who told the French news agency AFP in Beirut that Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator shot down while bombing Lebanon in 1986, would be "executed" if Israeli forces did not end their hostilities within 48 hours.

Middle East in turmoil,

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