Peres warns of South Lebanon `on brink of war'

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The Independent Online
ROBERT FISK

Beirut

A fierce exchange of fire between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops across the Lebanese-Israeli frontier yesterday provoked warnings from both Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, of widespread military action in southern Lebanon.

Mr Peres visited northern Israel, but found protesters blocking the roads to Kiryat Shmona after 18 Katyusha rockets had exploded around the town. The Israelis jeered Moshe Shahal, the Police Minister, but applauded Binyamin Netanyahu when the right-wing Likud party leader arrived - a reminder for Mr Peres of how Lebanon now threatens his electoral prospects.

Irish UN troops were last night trying to find out who set off the roadside bomb in southern Lebanon that led to the worst outbreak of violence in the region for almost a month. The killing of Mazen Farhat, 14, outside the village of Bradchit and the wounding of two smaller children led to the Hizbollah reprisal attack on northern Israel which left 13 Israelis wounded - and counter-retaliation by the Israelis, who fired 200 howitzer shells around the neighbouring villages.

Speaking at an army base outside Kiryat Shmona, Mr Peres, who denied the Israelis set off the bomb, refused to say what military action he contemplated: "We'll do what we have to . . . This government does not have a policy of restraint."

Mr Nasrallah said any large-scale Israeli military operation would reopen a general war in southern Lebanon.

First reports suggested the explosives that killed Mazen - apparently concealed in fibreglass inside a wall and wired to three other bombs - were placed on the Bradchit roadway by Israeli-backed militias to explode when Hizbollah guerrillas passed on their way to attack an Israeli artillery base south of the village. But local security sources said he had been playing with the bomb which killed him and that an investigation by the UN's Irish battalion had still not discovered who left the explosives.

In the past, both Hizbollah and Israeli-backed forces have used concealed bombs to kill their opponents outside Bradchit.

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