Israel's deadly raid spells end of Lebanon ceasefire

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The Independent Online
The Israeli military spokesman reported "accurate hits" during yesterday's midday air raid on the lower Bekaa valley of Lebanon. Which was odd, because the casualties were all civilians: two farmers, aged 70 and 50, killed outright by one of two missiles fired by the Israeli jets, another farmer of 70 seriously wounded, two children and a fourth civilian hurt. Not a single Hizbollah guerrilla was reported to have been injured in the raid around the tiny village of Lebaia. So how much longer can the south Lebanon ceasefire - if it can still be dignified with such a name - hold?

"We're waiting for the Katyushas to go over the border," a Lebanese army officer commented grimly in the aftermath of the raid, assuming that the Hizbollah would fire across the frontier into Israel instead of waiting for another meeting of the powerless five-power truce monitoring committee. Only a few hours earlier, the pro-Iranian guerrilla army had promised "a sharp and tough response that will make the enemy suffer" following Monday's Israeli helicopter landing which left five guerrillas dead at Kfour in southern Lebanon.

Lebaia is in an area of the Bekaa in which the Hizbollah operate; it is from around the nearby town of Rashaya that they frequently launch raids against Israel's occupation zone in southern Lebanon and its 1,500 occupation troops. But yesterday's Israeli raid was,in both political and military terms, a disaster. The two dead farmers, who were picking sesame seeds when they were killed, were named as Mohamed Hazzim and Ali Akl, both Shiite Muslims.

It now transpires that in Monday's raid on the Hizbollah, one of the five guerrillas who were blown up by bombs left by the Israelis was Sheikh Thaissir Badran, the chief of Hizbollah's operations in the Nabatea area of southern Lebanon. He died along with Hussein Qassir, one of his senior officers. Sheikh Badran was believed by the Israelis to have been responsible for an attack that killed nine Israeli occupation soldiers inside southern Lebanon two years ago; local intelligence sources say that the subsequent Israeli bombing of a house near Nabatea - in which 14 civilians, most of them women and children _ were slaughtered, was intended to strike Badran's home more than a mile away. The Israelis later claimed that the death of the 14 civilians was due to a "technical error".

At an angry funeral service for the dead Hizbollah men yesterday, Sheikh Naim Qasm, one of the leading members of the organisation's Beirut politburo, warned that the group would attack the Israeli army with suicide bombers. Although all five who died in Kfour were guerrillas, three civilians were also wounded - which constitutes a breach of the ceasefire rules. Yesterday's Israeli raid, which killed only civilians, broke almost every rule laid down by the truce committee. Faced with a possible violent confrontation with the Palestinians on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, the Israelis are therefore coming close to a second-front full-scale battle with the Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.