Civilians fall casualty to shattered truce

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It was accompanied by all the usual cliches. An operation of "surgical precision", every care taken for civilian life, "well within the parameters of the April [1996 truce] understanding".

That is how the commander of the Golani Brigade put it yesterday after his men had returned from their fire-fight at the small Lebanese village of Kfour, north of their occupation zone. And it is true that at least five Hizbollah guerrillas were killed and another two wounded.

Unfortunately for the mangled south Lebanese ceasefire, however, three civilians were wounded in Kfour and the fighting took place around the village; the wounding of civilians and firing into villages are both banned under the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

A pitched battle had begun in the early hours after Israeli troops had been flown by helicopter to a location close to Kfour and encountered both Lebanese army troops and Hizbollah men. When they retreated back to their helicopters, the Israelis laid booby-trap mines behind them - into which the five Hizbollah men blithely walked once the Israelis had flown away.

In military terms, it was indeed a coup for the Israelis. The Hizbollah have been exacting a fearful toll on Israeli occupation soldiers inside Lebanon and the dead included Hussein Kassir, the local Hizbollah commander. He and his guerrillas, according to Colonel Eretz, the Golani commander, had "Golani blood on their hands". Which may be true. But it is now only a matter of time before a further attack will be made on Golani soldiers in Lebanon now that they have obligingly let the Hizbollah know which Israeli unit to revenge themselves upon. The Lebanese authorities are already drafting their next complaint to the five-power ceasefire committee - whose chairmen have been pleading for more restraint in southern Lebanon - and the truce is just a little more tattered.

Israel arrested 29 Palestinians early yesterday in a sweep of the West Bank, as part of a strike to weaken Islamic militants after a twin suicide bombing took 15 lives in Jerusalem last week. Israel also stepped up demolition of houses built without permits by east Jerusalem Arabs, razing four, AP reports.

Since Wednesday's bombing, Israel has arrested 145 Palestinians, imposed tight travel restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and suspended talks with the Palestinians that had just resumed after a four- month break.