Israel blamed for Lebanon booby-trap blast

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The Independent Online
The near-dormant ceasefire committee in southern Lebanon is to meet in emergency session this afternoon after two Lebanese construction workers were blown to pieces by a booby-trap bomb - allegedly planted by the Israelis - in the town of Nabatea.

Lebanese police officials say that a second bomb, which was dismantled by ordnance officers, was made of components bearing Hebrew markings. Both had been constructed of glass-fibre - identical to booby-trap devices laid by Israeli soldiers at the village of Siddiqin last year.

Israel, meanwhile, has prepared its own complaint to the ceasefire committee: the wounding of four civilians inside its occupation zone by a bomb set off by Hizbollah near the village of Qlaia'a on Monday. The bomb had been directed at a squad of pro-Israeli militiamen from the "South Lebanon Army" which was passing the scene in an unmarked car. Two of the SLA men were also wounded.

Although a low-level war has continued between Hizbollah and Israeli troops in southern Lebanon since last April's Israeli bombing which killed almost 200 civilians, yesterday's blast in Nabatea caused grave concern to both the Lebanese authorities and to the United Nations peacekeeping force. It was an identical glass-fibre bomb - concealed as a stone in a wall - which killed a teenage boy in southern Lebanon just over a year ago, provoking a volley of Hizbollah rockets into Israel and, in turn, prompting Israel's bloody counter-bombardment. Claims that Israel was behind yesterday's deaths would be easier to dismiss if the Israelis had not been caught planting glass-fibre bombs near Siddiqin on April 18th, 1996. Israeli troops later gave UN officers maps of their hidden bombs, all of which were defused by the UN and all of which were made of glass- fibre.

Hizbollah also accused Israel of responsibility yesterday, while its rival Amal militia stated that the killings were a deliberate attempt to create unrest in advance of Pope John Paul II's visit to Lebanon at the weekend.

Lebanese newspapers have been speculating for several days that Israel might stage some form of attack to disrupt the Pope's trip, which the Lebanese government regards as the ultimate symbol that the country has emerged from its 16-year civil war. More than 20,000 Lebanese troops will be guarding the Pope during his travels across Beirut and during the Mass which he plans to say on Sunday in the open space that marks the ruined pre-war centre of the capital.

The ceasefire committee has met only once - and then for only two minutes - since the Arab League decided to break off all negotiations with Israel earlier this year. Syria's cigar-smoking delegate will be sitting opposite the Israelis at the meeting at UN headquarters at Naqqoura this afternoon, along with Colonel Maher Tofaili, the Lebanese delegate who visited the scene of the bombing in Nabatea yesterday.

Under the terms of the truce, Israelis and Hizbollah may attack each other but must not hurt civilians or fire from civilian areas of southern Lebanon.

Yesterday Israeli warplanes attacked suspected Hizbollah targets in the Syrian-controlled eastern Bekaa Valley. Two jets fired four rockets into a mountainous area southwest of the town of Mashghara, just north of Israel's south Lebanon occupation zone.

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