Israeli tanks and troops dig in across the border

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ISRAEL moved tank units and artillery batteries into positions on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese frontier yesterday, as the pro-Iranian Hizbollah buried 26 of their members in towns across Lebanon amid promises of revenge, writes Robert Fisk.

Thursday's night-time Israeli air raid on the Hizbollah training camp outside Baalbek - in which as many as 50 guerrillas may have been killed - threatens to turn into a shooting war in southern Lebanon, from where the Hizbollah have now fired up to 20 Katyusha rockets into Israel. Israeli guns fired back into Lebanon shortly after dawn yesterday morning.

The United Nations army in southern Lebanon reported that hundreds of families had fled their homes in villages adjoining Israel's occupation zone, fearing a repeat performance of last year's Israeli bombardment in which more than 130 civilians were killed.

Thousands of Israelis and Lebanese spent the night in bunkers or in the basements of their homes. Just south of Tyre, Hizbollah gunmen were involved in a battle with Fijian UN troops, which left one Hizbollah member dead and two Fijians seriously wounded.

The Syrian and Lebanese governments have claimed the raid was intended to put pressure on them at the Middle East peace talks - for over a week Israel has been accusing Syria of delaying a deal over the occupied Golan Heights and from both Damascus and Beirut there were angry denunciations of the attack.

Mohamed Salman, the Syrian Information Minister, claimed the raid was intended to undermine the peace negotiations and Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, stated that his country would not be 'coerced into peace on Israel's terms'. The Israelis have maintained that the attack on the Hizbollah - the most deadly in its struggle against the guerrilla movement - was part of a 'war against terrorism'.

A national day of mourning, significantly ignored in some Christian areas of the country, shut down most of Lebanon yesterday, although many Lebanese were still unsure of the death toll in Thursday's attack.

There are suspicions in Beirut, denied by the Hizbollah, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards may also have been killed in the attack. Lebanese police sources said up to 50 Hizbollah members died, many of them caught in the searchlight of rocket-firing helicopters as they fled the training camp.