Bomb kills 3 Israelis in Lebanon

Lebanese guerrillas killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded a fourth when they detonated a bomb beside a patrol on a road in south Lebanon yesterday. Hizbollah, the Islamic movement, which is fighting to end Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomb explosion, detonated near the village of Taibeh, six miles from the Israeli border, was a typical operation by Hizbollah, whose force of several hundred guerrillas killed 27 Israeli soldiers last year. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, urged Syria to use its influence to stop the "indirect war" against Israel in south Lebanon.

"At exactly midnight, a foot patrol of the enemy's army was moving on the Deir Siryan-Alman road," said a statement by Hizbollah issued in Beirut. "The Islamic Resistance strugglers kept the patrol under surveillance for a while and waited for it to reach a certain point. Then they set off a bomb that caused a big number of casualties."

The latest attack may increase the demand in Israel for a unilateral withdrawal from the nine-mile wide zone it holds in southern Lebanon. Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo accords with the Palestinians and a candidate for the Labour party leadership, said this week: "We have turned into hostages in Lebanon. Our soldiers have turned into sitting targets for Hizbollah. We need to get out of Lebanon unilaterally with the help of a third party."

Israeli options are limited. Mass bombardment by artillery and airpower of Lebanon in the so-called Grapes of Wrath operation last year killed several hundred Lebanese civilians, created an international outcry, but failed to damage Hizbollah militarily or politically. Mr Netanyahu has in the past favoured striking at Syrian positions in Lebanon, but this would breach the American-brokered agreement which ended Grapes of Wrath. It would also probably lead to a resumption of Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israel.

Israel has 1,200 soldiers in the border zone and 3,500 South Lebanon Army militia recruited locally, but who are considered increasingly unreliable. Mr Beilin said that there could be no agreed Israeli withdrawal because Syria wanted to go on using guerrilla attacks in south Lebanon to pressure Israel. He expressed doubts about Syria's willingness to make peace with Israel, but said that Israel should stop treating Iran as an arch-enemy.

n Washington (AP) - Setbacks in the Middle East peace process and the hunt for terrorists resulted in human rights abuses by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities during the past year, the US State Department reported.

Elsewhere in the region, Iraq continues to exercise "absolute dictatorial authority", while Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Libya commit serious human rights abuses, the US government said in its annual country assessments.

In Israel, Israeli-occupied territories and much of the Middle East, human rights abuses often resulted from government efforts to stop terrorism by detaining or imprisoning suspects, the report said. Both Israel and Palestinian police and military authorities arrested or detained about 1,000 Palestinians each in the wake of several suicide bombing attacks last year, and some suspects were tortured while several died in custody, the report said.

In Saudi Arabia, the State Department said "the government commits and tolerates serious human rights abuses" as security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain people.