Families flee south Lebanon in fear of Israeli reprisal: US is seen as having given nod to raids, reports Robert Fisk in Beirut

HUNDREDS of families continued to flee southern Lebanon yesterday in fear of Israel's threatened reprisal against the Hizbollah and other pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon for the bombings in London, Buenos Aires and Panama.

Lebanese government officials privately warned that Warren Christopher's speech two days ago - in which the US Secretary of State blamed the Hizbollah for 'perhaps' all the bombings - meant that Washington had given Israel a green light for retaliation in Lebanon.

As Hizbollah leaders moved from their usual offices amid rumours that Israel might try to strike at targets in the capital, Beirut, the Lebanese foreign ministry refused to countenance extradition to Argentina of Sheikh Sobhi Tofeili, a founder of the Hizbollah who has been named in Buenos Aires as one of the men behind this month's double bombing in the city.

The Foreign Minister, Faris Bouez, said that there were 'no solid, reasonable documents that contain evidence' against Sheikh Tofeili, whose Bekaa Valley followers are now more radical than the Hizbollah leadership of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut.

Sheikh Tofeili, who has strenuously denied any connection with the anti-Jewish atrocities, is now widely regarded as the Hizbollah cleric responsible for the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the late Eighties; for example, Terry Anderson, the longest-held hostage, was imprisoned for almost a year in a building next to his Beirut headquarters, along with two French captives and the former dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, Thomas Sutherland.

It is equally clear, however, that Israeli revenge is exactly what Sheikh Tofeili's Iranian- backed satellite group is now seeking, having adopted Israel's 'eye-for-an-eye' policy of retaliation with grim enthusiasm. Supported by those Iranian clerics opposed to the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani, it is as anxious to extend its war against Israel as Israel and the US are to pursue a war against 'international terrorism'.

In this context, it is easy to forget Israel's role in helping to create the Hizbollah, which Sheikh Tofeili and others founded to counter the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and its own contacts with a group which it purports to regard as the source of all evil.

For there have been repeated messages sent between Hizbollah and Israeli officials through a neutral third party; and on one occasion in the mid- Eighties, the Israelis - anxious at the time to upset the power base of the Shia Amal militia in southern Lebanon - freely allowed heavily armed Hizbollah units to pass through its occupation zone south of Jezzine, along with mortars and rocket launchers, in order to travel from the lower Bekaa Valley to the Iqlim al Tofah district.

Just as Israel has in the past been prepared to assist the Hizbollah in this way, so it once encouraged the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas in the occupied territories, when Hamas was regarded as a rival to Yasser Arafat's PLO - which then constituted Israel's 'terrorist' enemy. Now that Arafat has been turned into a statesman, Hamas has been named as the super-'terrorists' - even though several of its leaders, when they did not oppose Israel with weapons, met Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, in the Gaza Strip.

If this seems confusing to the Western nations - Britain included - which are now being urged to sign up for the new US-Israeli battle against world 'terrorism', many Arabs are reflecting on the fact that it is Israel and the US that will be deciding which 'terrorists' the world will be expected to fight. Iran and the Hizbollah are top of the list, of course, with Hamas a close second. Those guilty of the numerically worst 'terrorist' atrocity in the Middle East in the past 15 years - the Lebanese Phalange militia which slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children in the Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982 - will not be on the list, presumably because they were at the time allies of Israel.

Nor will the perpetrators of the 'terrorist' bombing of a Maronite church north of Beirut this year; the US has just refused to extradite to Lebanon one of the men who has been accused here of planning the bombing, which killed nine Lebanese civilians.

The US says that it might 'consider' such an extradition if Lebanon 'arrests the terrorists' who planned the US embassy and marine base bombings in 1983. It may be significant that testimony and charges in the church bombing trial - which is supposed to start later this summer - contains details of contacts between Lebanese Christians arrested for the bombing and Israeli intelligence officers in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

All Palestinian groups opposed to last year's PLO-Israeli Declaration of Principles - 10 of them have their head offices in Damascus - will probably be suitable targets for Israeli attack in Lebanon (and probably suspects in future bombings), not least because one of them, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, is still suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.

However, gunmen in the South Lebanon Army, Israel's surrogate force in the country, will be safe from the world's wrath - even though some of them have killed UN soldiers. The 'terrorist' murderers of two Irish UN troops shot in the back of the head in April 1980, for instance, are still living under Israel's protection in its occupation zone near Bint Jbail, although they did live for two years in Detroit, flying there through Ben Gurion airport.

There are, therefore, 'terrorists' aplenty throughout the Middle East. Western security officials will be relieved that they can remain on good terms with some of them.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Heli Ski Specialist

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...

Recruitment Genius: Product Packager / Stock Assistant

£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen