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Israel warned over deaths in Lebanon truce at risk

American, Lebanese, Israeli, Syrian and French delegates warned yesterday that further killings of civilians in southern Lebanon could "erode" the ceasefire agreed after last year's Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon which left almost 200 Lebanese civilians dead.

Their alarm followed the killing of three civilians by Israeli artillery fire over the previous four days and the wounding of a Lebanese civilian by a Katyusha rocket fired by Hizbollah guerrillas - both the Israelis and the Hizbollah received the ceasefire committee's report with ill grace and warned of the consequences of further violations.

In the hours before the five-power monitoring group met on Wednesday, the Hizbollah fired 37 more Katyushas at Israeli positions, in retaliation for the killing of a Palestinian woman and her son by Israeli shells east of Sidon. At least seven of the projectiles fell inside Israel but - in a clear attempt to deflate the crisis - the Hizbollah made no claim to the rocket attacks and the Israelis said they could not find the point of impact of the Katyushas which had landed inside Israeli territory. The two Palestinians, it transpires, were inside their house on a poultry farm near the village of Barty when they were killed. The woman's husband, who worked for the UN's Palestinian relief agency, survived, along with the couple's daughter.

The ceasefire committee condemned as a clear truce violation the Israeli killing - by "fleshette" shells - of an elderly farmer at Aadchit al-Qsair on Saturday, for which the Israeli delegate expressed "deep sorrow". The killing of the two Palestinians was a "possibly unintentional violation" because the Israelis said that their fire was in self-defence after an attack on their militia allies. The wounding of a Lebanese man in Marjayoun by a Katyusha was termed an "unintentional violation" and the landing of one Katyusha inside Israel also breached the April 1996 understanding.

With schoolmasterly impatience, the ceasefire committee urged restraint on both sides, adding that "combatants are responsible for the manner in which they conduct their firing missions", an odd reference to the fact that the ceasefire allows Israeli occupation troops and Hizbollah guerrillas to kill each other providing they do not fire from or towards civilians. Few in Lebanon expect the truce to survive much longer.