Peace talks spark orgy of revenge

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The Independent Online
They buried 18-year-old Jumana Fahas yesterday as Israeli shells thundered across the villages of Kafra and Yater.

It was only hours since the Hizbollah's Katyushas had been fired into Galilee, killing a Frenchman and wounding eight civilians. Which was why, inShaqra, the dead woman's ghost village, there were to be seen just a clutch of Irish UN soldiers, one middle-aged man and a cat. Life in southern Lebanon is getting dangerous again.

It was the second time in three weeks that Israeli ordnance had claimed the life of a young Lebanese girl at Shaqra.

There was what the UN calls the "big picture", the geopolitical arguments and negotiations intimately related to this pointless war. On Tuesday, the Israelis and the Syrians are to restartpeace talks in Washington. And as always when peace is in the air, southern Lebanon explodes.

The sequence of events was easy to put together. On Thursday afternoon, the Shia Hizbollah militia in Shaqra fired two Sagger wire-guided missiles at an artillery compound held by the Israeli-controlled South Lebanon Army inside the Israeli occupied zone.

The SLA sought revenge by firing 14 mortar rounds into Shaqra itself, eight of them fitted with proximity fuses which burst at head height to cause maximum casualties. The fifth round sent a chunk of shrapnel through the window of Jumana's home, cutting off the lower half of her face and almost severing her neck. She died instantly.

Just after dawn yesterday, the Hizbollah retaliated by firing at least 14 Katyusha missiles from the villages of Kafra and Yater towards the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, killing the Frenchman.

Israel's retaliation was a torrent of shells back into southern Lebanon and air raids on two more villages east of Sidon. By dusk, the Hizbollah promised another revenge attack.

Jumana Fahas was a member of the Hizbollah's "girl scouts", but her father was a member of the more moderate Shia Amal movement, which blames the Hizbollah as much as the Israelis for the bombardments. So, as her body was taken from her house, Amal and Hizbollah mourners fought in the street over who had the right to bury their "martyr".

By then, Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Israeli opposition Likud party, was demanding that Syria disarm and disband Hizbollah as a precondition for Tuesday's Washington talks. He did not, of course, demand disarming the SLA and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from southern Lebanon - Hizbollah's condition for ending its "war of resistance".

But what nobody ventured to answer was: were these latest tragedies an attempt by Syria - via its Hizbollah allies - to pressure Israel to compromise at the talks? Or rather an attempt by Israel - via their south Lebanese allies - to force the Syrians to compromise? Or both?

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