Hizbollah resumes shelling of the south: Lebanese PM says Shia militia will not be disarmed until Israel leaves Lebanon

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The Independent Online
HIZBOLLAH and Israel's proxy Lebanese gunmen were back at their old game of threat and counter-threat in southern Lebanon yesterday.

First came the Hizbollah attack: six Katyusha missiles into the Israeli occupation zone overnight, followed by two more and 18 mortars yesterday morning. Then came the response: a barrage of Israeli artillery fire on to the villages of the Iqlim al-Tuffah and a warning from Israel's puppet general in southern Lebanon, Antoine Lahd, that last week's Israeli onslaught against the civilians of the south would be repeated if the Lebanese army did not crush Hizbollah.

There is, needless to say, no hope that the Lebanese army - not to be confused with Gen Lahd's ragtag militia - will stop Hizbollah firing rockets into the Israeli-occupied part of southern Lebanon. Even if they are deployed into the United Nations area of operations opposite the Israeli occupation army, any conflict between Lebanese troops and the pro- Iranian Hizbollah would turn into a full-scale battle that would embrace the southern suburbs of Beirut - where Hizbollah has its political headquarters - within hours.

Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, said as much in an interview with the French daily Liberation, which was given wide publicity in the Lebanese press yesterday. While Hizbollah would be disarmed after the Israelis left Lebanese territory, any attempt to do so now, he said, 'would spark a new civil war'.

Mr Hariri objected to the firing of Katyusha rockets into Israel - but not to Hizbollah's rocket offensive against the occupation zone. 'Nobody can put the resistance in jail,' he was quoted as saying. 'The duty of the Lebanese army is to reassure the security of the Lebanese, not guard the Israeli border . . . it is not the government's duty to stop the resistance.'

One of Hizbollah's more notorious members was, meanwhile, returning to Lebanon yesterday evening after being freed from a German prison where he had been serving a 13-year sentence for the kidnapping of German hostages in Beirut.

Sent home under a law that permits early release for foreigners, Abbas Ali Hamadi had abducted two German businessmen here in a vain attempt to free his brother Mohamed, who was jailed for life in Germany for murdering Robert Stetham, an American naval diver killed on board the TWA jet hijacked to Beirut in 1985. Hamadi's return will have closed another chapter in the Lebanese hostage epic.

An earlier chapter of Lebanese history was also closed yesterday, though with more savagery. Henri Pharoun, the 92-year-old former foreign minister who struggled to gain Lebanon's independence from France during the League of Nations mandate, was found stabbed to death in his suite at the Carlton Hotel in Beirut, along with his bodyguard. The multi-millionaire owner of the biggest stable of Arabian horses in the world, Pharoun lived for many years in a Beirut palace packed with antiquities. His murder, however, is believed to have been committed for personal reasons.