Israel's big guns take revenge on Lebanon

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BY DUSK last night, the Israelis had wounded five Lebanese civilians in revenge for the pro-Iranian Hizbollah's killing of five Israeli occupation troops in southern Lebanon on Sunday. But a bombardment by sixteen 155mm howitzers, crewed by 500 extra Israeli troops, went on throughout the evening across Lebanon, after Israeli officials at the peace talks in Washington had warned Syria it should 'control' its militia allies in the south of the country.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, said yesterday that Israel would capture the guerrillas who killed the troops. In one hour, Israeli artillery batteries fired 200 shells into the lower Bekaa valley while Israeli helicopter gunships attacked two villages in which Hizbollah hold positions. The shelling was nothing like as fierce as the Israeli bombardment which followed Israel's assassination of Sheik Abbas Moussawi, the Hizbollah leader, in February. Although reports that the Israeli retaliation was the most powerful in years were untrue, it was certainly part of a deadly and familiar story.

The Israeli army said yesterday that Israeli gunboats attacked a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon last night. The Israelis also said yesterday that, following Sunday's killings, they would find a way to stop the offensive against their occupation troops. But they invaded Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 to prevent guerrilla attacks on their occupation forces and against their northern border - all to no avail.

In fact, Israel has been retaliating against its enemies in southern Lebanon for 24 years without any obvious military effect. It has launched thousands of air strikes against Palestinians and later Hizbollah without driving them from the south. Palestinian and later Hizbollah militiamen have fired thousands of shells into northern Israel and staged hundreds of attacks on Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon without achieving any Israeli withdrawal.

Hizbollah and Israel's Lebanese militia, the 'South Lebanon Army', have fought each other across southern Lebanon for at least seven years, each encouraged respectively by Syria and Israel. Syria says it has influence but not control over the Hizbollah - which is precisely what Israel says of the SLA when its own proxy gunmen kill or wound United Nations soldiers. Ruthless though Sunday's Hizbollah attack on the Israeli patrol evidently was - and there can be no doubt that Syria approves of such assaults - it remains an act of resistance by Lebanese citizens on foreign troops occupying their country, a practice which has never been condemned in international law.

Not that such legalities would be of much interest to Hizbollah. Eight members have been elected to the new Lebanese parliament, but with most of its forces in action against the Israelis' occupation zone, Hizbollah is the only group in Lebanon with an active political and military wing. The violence may also have been timed to embarrass the new Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.

WASHINGTON - Israel and Lebanon clashed in peace talks yesterday over the fighting in south Lebanon. The chief Israeli delegate, Uri Lubrani, said the Muslim fundamentalists who killed the Israeli soldiers were trying to wreck the peace process, Reuter reports.