Hizbollah killings blow truce to shreds

Lebanese carnage: Death of five more soldiers shows Israel will continue to pay dearly for occupation zone

In the most devastating attack staged by the Hizbollah inside southern Lebanon this year, five Israeli occupation troops were killed yesterday and another six wounded. However, the guerrillas appear to have stayed within the terms of the ceasefire accord, which Shimon Peres's government agreed six weeks ago. By contrast, the Israelis seem to have broken the agreement when they retaliated for yesterday's assault by firing 80 shells across Lebanon, killing a Lebanese army sergeant and wounding three civilians. As a Lebanese friend put it a few hours after Israel's latest losses in Lebanon: "The ceasefire is holding - the fighting continues."

In reality, of course, there is no ceasefire. The unsigned paper that Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the United States approved to allow Mr Peres to escape his bloody Lebanese adventure six weeks ago is already ignored by both sides. The much-trumpeted US-French-Syrian-Israeli-Lebanese ceasefire "monitoring group" is non-existent.

The State Department, so the Lebanese have been informed, has even told Israel that it does not have to abide by the terms of the truce but can "hit back" if its soldiers are attacked in occupied southern Lebanon.

Yesterday, it did just that. It was 5.30am when the Hizbollah men inside the Israeli occupation zone in southern Lebanon attacked a patrol returning from the artillery compound on a hilltop at Dubshe, firing at them with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Some reports said that the Hizbollah continued firing with Israeli-made mortars, weapons that were given to the Lebanese Phalange militia who fought for Israel during the 1975-90 civil war but who later sold their

armoury to the highest bidder - and that the battle lasted for at least an hour. Within minutes, Israeli artillery had opened fire at villages east of Nabatea, killing the Lebanese soldier who was stationed at an army checkpoint outside the town.

UN troops described the initial attack, which the Hizbollah claimed was further retaliation for the Israeli massacre of civilians at Qana on 18 April, as a "major confrontation". The offensive, the bloodiest since Binyamin Netanyahu won the Israeli election by promising increased "security" for Israelis, means the prime minister-elect will confront the same problem as his predecessor, Mr Peres: the cost of occupying one tenth of Lebanon, while maintaining that resistance to that occupation constitutes "terrorism".

It is a price that is likely to climb much higher, and which threatens to plunge Lebanon into another bloody confrontation with Israel.

We may have to wait a little longer for "Operation Grapes of Wrath Part 2" but the "ceasefire's" track record shows all too clearly how damaging is the Hizbollah's war against Israeli occupation. A glance at the events of the past 10 days also shows just how preposterous were the terms of the truce.

On 30 May, even as Israeli votes were still being counted, two bombs in the occupied town of Marjayoun killed four Israeli soldiers and wounded another seven. This appeared to breach a clause in the ceasefire, which stipulated that "civilian areas ... will not be used as launching grounds for attack". But Marjayoun is in the occupied zone and may not have been considered a civilian area. Since a local journalist was wounded by the second bomb, this was a violation of the truce.

Next day, Israeli planes bombed a Hizbollah arms dump near Baalbek, almost 70 miles from Marjayoun, wounding three Lebanese civilians, an Israeli breach of the ceasefire.

On 5 June, the Hizbollah set off a roadside bomb near an

Israeli patrol and wounded a civilian (yet another ceasefire breach); two days later, they opened fire with an anti-aircraft gun on an Israeli Cobra helicopter gunship. As the gun was firing from a road outside the village of Qabrikha, the Hizbollah were not using a civilian area as a "launching ground".

Later, however, a Hizbollah man fired a Sam-7 missile at the same helicopter from the centre of the village. The US embassy in Beirut, keen to search for Hizbollah breaches of the ceasefire, asked if the firing of the Sam- 7 wasn't a truce violation. Perhaps, replied the UN, but since the Cobra gunship was over the centre of the village, did that not also constitute a breach of the truce?

On Sunday, 9 June, the Hizbollah attacked an Israeli patrol near Reihan, wounding an Israeli soldier. On the same day, they set off a bomb beside a patrol of the pro-Israeli militia at Beit Yahoun, wounding one Israeli- paid gunman. No breaches of the ceasefire agreement here: all the attacks were in open country and targeted only military personnel.

But how long can this go on? How soon after he forms his government will Mr Netanyahu realise that he is trapped by the ceasefire agreement so desperately sought by his predecessor, a truce which permits Hizbollah to strike at Israeli occupation forces, just as it permits the Israelis to strike at the Hizbollah? "It's going to be a bad year," a UN officer commented bleakly yesterday.

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