Israel presses Syria to curb Hizbollah guns

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The Independent Online


Kiryat Shmona - An Israeli minister said Syria must suppress operations by Hizbollah gunners after they pounded an Israeli outpost in south Lebanon yesterday, killing one soldier.

The Israeli army said that two other soldiers were wounded in the attack in which dozens of mortar bombs rocked their post in the Jewish state's self-declared security zone in south Lebanon.

Israeli forces and pro-Israeli militia units wounded one man in retaliatory shelling of four guerrilla-held villages in south Lebanon, Lebanese security sources said.

The deputy Defence Minister, Ori Orr, said Syria must clamp down on Hizbollah guerrillas if Damascus wanted to continue unfettered in its role as Lebanon's chief power broker.

"Syria must understand that if it wants to keep on conducting an orderly way of life in Lebanon, it cannot allow Hizbollah to work freely, as it's working today," Mr Orr said, in a reference to the estimated 35,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon.

The shelling followed a rocket barrage by Iranian-backed Hizbollah guerrillas which injured 36 people in northern Israel on Tuesday.

Angry Israelis in the hard-hit town of Kiryat Shmona held demonstrations beseeching the government to retaliate. But Mr Orr said Israel would resist pressure to launch a high-profile onslaught against Hizbollah, which has fought for years to drive Israel from the buffer zone.

"It is unacceptable to me when I hear the reporters and everyone inciting the government for a military operation," he said, adding that he detected "the smell of elections in the air" among backers of massive retaliation.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres, facing general elections on 29 May, is trying to project a tough-guy image in security-obsessed Israel, while refraining from further hobbling the fragile Middle East peace process that is the cornerstone of his career.

Mr Peres has accused Iran of trying to bring down his government to foil the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, already badly mauled by Moslem Hamas suicide bombings in which 58 people have been killed in the Jewish state.

"This is not the place to go into details of activity against the Syrians or the Iranians or the government of Lebanon," Mr Orr told Israel television. "But Iran arms, trains, finances [Hizbollah], Syria could prevent Hizbollah activity, and doesn't do it, the Lebanese government shows no responsibility for its citizens in south Lebanon - we must carry out activity with wisdom such that all the parties will recognise their responsibility."

Ehud Yaari, a commentator for the state-run television, noted that Israel had departed from past form in not appealing to its main ally, Washington, to calm the situation. "There is a sense that the United States is now clearing the path to allow Israel to use means it has not yet used," he said.