Guerrillas make presence felt in blood

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The Independent Online
Israel has seldom been fortunate in Lebanon. It was in an early foray across the Lebanese border against the Vichy French in 1941 that Moshe Dayan, Israel's most famous soldier, lost his left eye to a sniper, requiring him to wear what became the world's most famous eye patch.

Subsequent Israeli intervention has never produced the results expected. The ambush of an Israeli patrol by Hizbollah guerrillas early yesterday morning, in which five soldiers were killed and eight wounded, underlines the failure of the 17-day Israeli bombardment of south Lebanon in April. "We were completely surprised," one of the wounded men told Israeli radio.

It is the second ambush since the Israeli election, bringing to nine the number of Israeli dead. Both attacks show careful planning, good intelligence and the use of well-trained guerrillas. Israeli military sources confirmed Hizbollah's claim that an entire patrol from the Nahal infantry brigade, returning to its base near Beaufort castle, was killed or wounded.

Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister, said the attack in Lebanon was "serious" and Israel would "respond at a time and place of its own choosing". After flying to south Lebanon he later met Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister- elect, to discuss events there. Mr Netanyahu won the election by promising "peace with security" to Israelis. In office he may respond to Hizbollah attacks by air strikes against targets in parts of Lebanon held by Syria.

The ambush in Lebanon came a few hours after two Israeli settlers, Efrat and Yaron Unger, from the militant settlement at Kiryat Arba near Hebron, were shot dead in their car at Beit Shemesh in Israel. Their nine-month- old son, Ishai, survived unhurt.

The killing of Mr and Mrs Unger, both Orthodox Jews, may make it more difficult for Mr Netanyahu to redeploy Israeli troops from Hebron. "I think a suitable answer to such a terrible event should be to hold the land more strongly with our fingers and with our nails deep, deep in the earth," said Uri Dasberg, Efrat's father. Her mother Judith said: "We hope they are the last victims of the Oslo accord."

The couple were killed as they returned from a wedding late on Sunday night, but they were still within Israel when the attack occurred.

Unlike the other West Bank towns, Israeli forces have yet to withdraw from Hebron, a city of 100,000 Palestinians in the heart of which are 450 Israeli settlers. Israeli troops forced Palestinian shopkeepers to close their shops yesterday saying they feared retaliation by settlers.

Meanwhile in Gaza the Palestinian authorities have once again arrested Iyad Sarraj, the leading Palestinian human rights activist who was held for nine days last month after sharply criticising the government of Yasser Arafat for carrying out arbitrary arrests and torturing suspects. Mr Sarraj was picked up at his Gaza City home on Sunday night by eight Palestinian policemen who gave no reason for his arrest.

Khalid Kidreh, the Palestinian attorney general, said Mr Sarraj, the head of the Palestinian Commission for Citizens Rights, would be questioned for 48 hours, but declined to say why. Mr Sarraj's original offence was to give an interview to the New York Times in which he said Mr Arafat's government, established in Gaza in 1994, was corrupt and dictatorial.