Israel warns Lebanon 'will burn'

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The Independent Online

Israel's jets and artillery pounded targets in Lebanon for a second day yesterday, an assault it coupled with a blood-curdling warning of a Middle East inferno if Hizbollah guerrillas retaliate by firing rockets into its northern towns.

Israel's jets and artillery pounded targets in Lebanon for a second day yesterday, an assault it coupled with a blood-curdling warning of a Middle East inferno if Hizbollah guerrillas retaliate by firing rockets into its northern towns.

Having broken the agreed rules of engagement, Israel pressed on with its attacks, extinguishing all hopes of a Syrian peace deal in the near future and pushing the region towards further mayhem.

The sound of loud speakers reverberated around the valleys of northern Galilee last night, ordering those Israelis who have not already fled - and tens of thousands have done so - back into their bunkers for a third night. This was soonfollowed by the roar of Israeli military aircraft.

Israel's Foreign Minister, David Levy, issued a ferocious warning to the small Iranian-backed guerrilla force and those nations which influence it. "If Katyusha rockets fall on our settlements, the soil of Lebanon will burn," he said after the Israeli security cabinet held a three-hour meeting. In particular, he appealed to Syria, which has 35,000 troops in Lebanon, to rein in the guerrillas, a request that is more and more likely to be ignored with every new Israeli attack.

But it is hard to see how Israel can extricate itself from the crisis. Hizbollah attacks provoked it into violating a ceasefire agreement on Tuesday by bombing civilian targets in Lebanon. The Hizbollah promptly responded - staying within the rules of engagement - by killing a sixth soldier.

The Israeli assaults have further damaged the already-suspended peace talks with Syria. The Israeli government has sought to blame Damascus for the failure of the negotiations, but this time it will carry a large share of the blame in the eyes of the world. Syria yesterday accused Israel of being opposed to peace.

The US was standing doggedly by Mr Barak yesterday, accusing the Hizbollah of escalating the violence.

At home, Mr Barak is under growing public pressure to fulfil his promise to withdraw his troops from Lebanon by July, ending Israel's unwinnable two-decade war. But he shows no sign of having any strategy for dealing with the massive problems that this will incur - not least, the fate of Israel's surrogate South Lebanon Army,

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