Shadow of Lebanon over Israeli poll

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The Independent Online
AN ISRAELI soldier was killed and another wounded yesterday by a roadside bomb planted by Hizbollah Lebanese Islamic guerrillas in the Israeli-occupied zone in southern Lebanon. Molo Nagato, 23, was the ninth Israeli soldier to die in Lebanon this year.

The issue of the Israeli presence there may be forced back on to the political agenda in the final weeks of the election campaign by the killing.

Yesterday's attack, on the coastal road six miles north of the Israeli border, was a typical Hizbollah ambush with a remote-controlled bomb, to which the Israeli army has been unable to find an answer. Earlier, a member of the Israeli-organised "South Lebanon Army" was wounded in a rocket and mortar attack.

Lebanon and the trickle of Israeli casualties have played a small role in the Israeli election, which is on 17 May. It is possible that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, may want to show its strength by launching punitive attacks.

Shimon Peres, the prime minister Mr Netanyahu defeated in 1996, bombarded southern Lebanon just before the last election but it did him little good at the polls. Ehud Barak, the leader of One Israel (formerly the Labour party), pledged earlier in the campaign that he would get Israeli troops out of Lebanon within a year of taking office.

In the last weeks of campaigning Mr Netanyahu is trying to contrast the lack of suicide bomb attacks today with the situation in 1996, when almost 100 Israelis were killed by bombers. His television advertising is showing the results of suicide attacks, accompanied by claims they will return if Mr Barak is elected.

The Prime Minister is also trying to exploit the gaffe by Tiki Dayan, an actress, who denounced supporters of the present government as "rabble" and derisively imitated the accent of the Sephardi, Jews whose families come from North Africa or the Middle East.