Hizbollah attack backfires on bomber

Guerrillas detonated a vehicle packed with explosives next to an outpost of pro-Israeli militia yesterday, killing at least one militiaman amid high tension in the run-up to Israel's planned withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

The guerrillas of the Iranian-backed Hizbollah group attacked numerous military positions in the Israeli-occupied zone, wounding an Israeli soldier. One guerrilla was killed in the attacks, Hizbollah said in a statement issued in Beirut.

Israel retaliated with air strikes on suspected guerrilla hideouts in southern Lebanon. The surge in hostilities followed a week of diplomatic efforts aimed at smoothing Israel's troop withdrawal by 7 July.

In the bomb attack, the guerrillas, backed by rocket and machine-gun fire, drove a truck with hundreds of pounds of explosives up to a position of the South Lebanon Army militia in Aramta. The vehicle exploded as they retreated.

Hizbollah said they had teamed with the Lebanese Resistance Brigades, to storm the Aramta position and plant explosives. It made no reference to an explosives-laden vehicle being detonated.

Israel created the occupied zone in 1985 to shield its northern territory from cross-border guerrilla incursions. It is manned by 1,500 Israeli troops and 2,500 SLA militiamen who are paid and armed by Israel.

Israel has decided to withdraw amid public anger at home against the mounting casualties among its troops in south Lebanon. The UN may strengthen or modify its 4,500-member peacekeeping force in parts of southern Lebanon.

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