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
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album