Hizbollah forges new alliance to harry Israel

Attack provides proof of military ties between Iran and Palestinian gue rrillas, writes Robert Fisk in Tibnin
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By the time Irish United Nations troops had found Deeb Mohamed Bahajat and Mohamed Abdel-Ali, it was all over. Both guerrillas had been torn apart by Israeli fleshette shells - artillery rounds containing three-inch steel arrows - and five of thei r colleagues lay dead outside Taibe village where six Israeli soldiers had killed them.

Seven dead gunmen at a cost of only two Israelis wounded - a little victory for the Israeli occupation army in southern Lebanon; or so it might seem.

But the attack on the Israeli convoy inside the Israeli occupation zone also provided the first evidence of open military collaboration between the pro-Iranian Hizbollah movement and Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The five men at Taibe were all Palestinians; they had used an abandoned house to fire rocket-propelled grenades at nine Israeli trucks resupplying an Israeli artillery position while Hizbollah guerrillas provided covering fire with wire-guided Sag gar missiles and mortars. The battle lasted four hours and only ended when an Israeli tank and a Cobra helicopter gunship hunted down the survivors in the Wadi Seluqi.

For the Israelis it was enough to rub out the humiliation they suffered last year when their own soldiers ran away from an artillery position at Dabshe, allowing the Hizbollah to capture it. The convoy's commander, an Israeli major, said yesterday that six of his soldiers had killed the Palestinians in an infantry charge with "classic military professionalism". But the Hizbollah remains Israel's fiercest enemy on the only hostile front line in the Arab-Israeli war and with Jibril's men alongside them, their offensive capability has been augmented.

In southern Lebanon, Israel's South Lebanon Army militia allies are melting away in desertions while December's attacks on the Israeli occupation forces reached a total of 70, the highest monthly figure since 1985.This month - with 60 attacks in three weeks - is likely to prove higher still. Over the past few days, Hizbollah men have succeeded in pasting "Islamic resistance'' posters on the walls of houses inside the Israeli occupation zone - in one case only a few metres from the frontier. All warned the pro-Israeli militia to "repent or die".

Ahmed Jibril has long been a frequent visitor to Tehran which provides the Hizbollah with funds and weapons - Hizbollah guerrillas receive $300 (£191) a month - and it seems the PFLP-GC is also receiving Iranian financial assistance. In 1988, Jibril attended a gathering of militia leaders in Tehran, all of whom were promised help in their war against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and "Palestine".

The bodies discovered by Irish UN troops were of a PFLP-GC member and a Hizbollah; two wounded guerrillas were found screaming in pain in the same wadi and were taken by ambulance with a UN escort to Tibnin hospital. The UN- in the words of the Irish deputy commander - were given "duff information" that a woman had been wounded in the village of Qabriqa and only realised the victims were military when they reached the wadi.

It seems that this may not be the first joint operation between the Hizbollah and the PFLP-GC. Two Palestinian guerrillas killed in the occupation zone in November are believed to have been infiltrated into the region by the Hizbollah - so are the Palestinians who killed an Israeli army major, a Druze, before Christmas. Ten days ago, three more Palestinians were killed in a convoy attack at Kunin; again, they are believed to have been given weapons by the Hizbollah. But the Taibe assault was the largestof its kind and clearly involved Hizbollah members in active military co-operation.