Israeli jets bomb Hizbollah villages in revenge raid: Retaliation for attacks on Jewish targets in London and Buenos Aires has been slow in coming and was not on the scale that many Lebanese feared, writes Robert Fisk in Tyre

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The Independent Online
TWO children and two women were among the civilian victims of Israel's first air raids on Lebanon since the bombings of Jewish targets in Buenos Aires and London. They and three other Lebanese civilians were killed in the last of three Israeli attacks on Lebanon last night; two on the Hizbollah- controlled village of Ein Buswa in the Iqlim Al-Tofah district and the third on the hamlet of Deir Zahrani, just off the main road between Sidon and the inland city of Nabatea. First reports suggested that the Israeli air force had botched the final raid by mistaking a two-storey villa at Deir Zahrani - in which three families had their homes - for a building used by Hizbollah 50 metres away.

The Najda Hospital in Nabatea reported eight dead civilians and at least 13 wounded, from raids which began just before dusk and lasted until nightfall, the Israeli bombers flying in over the Mediterranean and firing missiles at the two villages.

Unconfirmed reports from the Iqlim suggested there were guerrilla casualties in the earlier attacks but the Hizbollah prevented journalists from reaching Ein Buswa. Even so, the pre-dusk attacks were not on the scale which the Lebanese had feared.

They brought to 28 the number of Israeli air raids on the country this year, all but one of which - on a Hizbollah training base in the Bekaa Valley - have had little effect on the guerrillas.

If this is to be the extent of Israel's retaliation against the Hizbollah, then the Lebanese will count themselves lucky. All week they had been speculating on the reasons for Israel's delay in responding to the bombings in Buenos Aires, Panama and London. Some thought the unseasonable rainstorms had postponed Israel's assault. Others suspected it might have been Mounir Maqdah, the Palestinian commander in the Ein Helwe camp in Sidon, who did the trick by announcing yesterday (with Syria's blessing, no doubt), that he had arrested the men who claimed the Buenos Aires and Panama bombings, all members, he claimed, of Yasser Arafat's PLO.

There were few who did not expect Israel's 'painful response' - to use the words of Uri Lubrani, Israel's 'special adviser' on southern Lebanon - to the most recent attacks on Israel's occupation forces inside Lebanon.

The front-line village of Braachit, just inside the Irish United Nations battalion's area of operations, but overlooked by a massive Israeli gun position, is empty. The population of neighbouring Majdel Silm has heard that their homes will be pulverised when Israel takes its revenge. All night, Israeli helicopters circled the hilltop village of Jibchit, whose Shia cleric, Abdul-Karim Obeid, was kidnapped by the Israelis five years ago and still languishes in an Ashkelon jail.

On the other side of the Jezzine mountain chain, the Shia village of Yohmor is under Israeli siege.

Its 1,000 inhabitants are forbidden from visiting their olive orchards and cornfields and their drinking water is fast running out.

In the context of the south Lebanon war, the predicament of Yohmor possesses its own symbolism. The Israelis surrounded the villagers after a Hizbollah attack on an Israeli convoy near Nabatea on 25 July, an assault which left one Israeli officer dead and 13 soldiers wounded. In the firefight that followed, the Israelis killed a Hizbollah guerrilla, whose home was in Yohmor.

What the Israelis did not say is that the Hizbollah attacked them with a new form of Sagger radio- guided missile, which was fired at them from 2,000 yards range. The Hizbollah fired a total of 10 missiles at the convoy, scoring hits with four rockets. Four out of ten is not a bad rate for a Sagger fired at more than a mile's range, and it took sophisticated equipment and new training - no doubt from Iran and with Syrian permission - to carry out the operation.

The new tactic is vital to Hizbollah's war against Israeli occupation. For the past three years, the guerrillas have bled Israel's army with devastating roadside bombs, one of which almost killed Israel's northern commander last year; two others killed 17 Israeli soldiers in less than a fortnight.

But there have been no roadside bombs in southern Lebanon for three months, and no-one in these dry, hill villages doubts the reason. It was members of Israel's 'South Lebanon Army' militia - supporting the Israeli occupation - who assisted the Hizbollah guerrillas.

Dissident SLA men - the force contains many Shias - were helping to set the bombs and, on occasion, abandoning their positions to allow the Hizbollah a bloodless but politically important victory.

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army issued a rare apology yesterday, describing the bombing of a house in Deir Zahrani as a 'mistake', Reuter reports. An army spokeswoman said 'innocent civilians are not the target of our air raids' and expressed sorrow for the casualties. Military officials added: 'The mishap is being checked.'

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