Five Israelis wounded in Hizbollah attacks

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The Independent Online
Hizbollah guerrillas yesterday wounded five Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon, the first casualties suffered by Israel since its 17-day bombardment in April. The two attacks are likely to damage government claims that it achieved anything through the American-brokered ceasefire agreement.

In the first of yesterday's attacks Hizbollah guerrillas exploded a roadside bomb as an Israeli patrol passed near the outpost of Sojoud in the Israeli- occupation zone. They later opened fire with mortars on the the outpost itself close to the Israeli border. One officer was seriously hurt by an anti-tank rocket and four others, including two officers, were injured by mortar shells.

Israeli artillery and aircraft immediately retaliated against targets within the security zone. Planes fired rockets into suspected Hizbollah positions in Mleeta hills, in the Iqlim al-Toufah mountainous area. Heavy 155mm guns fired more than 100 rounds and Israeli jets yesterday flew briefly over Beirut for the first time since the ceasefire understanding.

Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement arranged by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, on 27 April, Hizbollah is allowed to continue its attacks on Israeli forces within the occupation zone. Both sides agreed not to target civilians and to refer to an international monitoring group.

The Israeli casualties inflicted yesterday are likely to undermine the claims by the government of Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister, that Operation Grapes of Wrath damaged Hizbollah. The guerrilla movement says only 14 of its men were killed by Israel last month and it never ceased to fire Katyusha rockets on northern Israel. One pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militiaman was killed and two were wounded in two Hizbollah attacks last week.

"The attacks on Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon prove Peres's failure in the Grapes of Wrath operation," the opposition Likud party said in a statement. Last month's offensive produced little criticism in Israel largely because there were no Israeli military casualties and only two civilians seriously wounded. If Hizbollah now presses its attacks it is likely to damage the Prime Minister in the run-up to the election on 29 May. "Peres had said the understandings [with Hizbollah] would last until the elections. The reality is different," the Likud statement said.

The ceasefire understanding envisaged the formation of a monitoring committee comprising the US, France, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Representatives, who held their first meeting in Washington on Friday, failed to agree on a framework for the committee's tasks, location and activities which were not specified by the April accord.

Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to delay the Israeli troop pullout from most of the West Bank city of Hebron until after the elections, a government spokesman said yesterday. "We have decided, and this was decided together with the Palestinians, that we should delay any further developments in Hebron for the time being in order not to create a lot of friction," said Uri Dromi.

"The most important thing is to go to the election and then the next government will carry out all the obligations reached with the Palestinians."

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