South Lebanon bleeds amid the talk of peace

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The Syrians and Israelis may be talking "peace" in Washington, but their proxies are continuing their dirty war in southern Lebanon.

An Israeli "South Lebanon Army" (SLA) artillery battery has wounded a 12-year old girl in the village of Ain Fjour, while Syrian-backed Hizbollah militiamen have killed an SLA member in the village of Arabselim only a day after two soldiers from Israel's occupation army were killed in the south of Lebanon. Now General Amnon Shahak, Israeli army chief of staff, has said that if Hizbollah fire rockets into northern Israel, the civilian villagers of southern Lebanon will be made to "pay dearly" for such an attack.

In reality, south Lebanese villagers have been paying dearly for the cross-border war - first between Israelis and Palestinians, now between the Israelis and the enemies they helped to create in 1982, the Hizbollah - for well over 20 years. Nor are the Israelis and Hizbollah in any doubt about the rules of their war in southern Lebanon. They may attack each other's military forces, but any shelling of Lebanese civilians will incur retaliatory Hizbollah rocket attacks on Galilee - an exotic reversal of the old equation whereby Israel would attack Lebanese civilians if rockets were fired into Galilee. It is now Hizbollah that adopts the eye-for-an- eye tactic.

In Washington Israeli and Syrian military delegations continue to argue and negotiate about an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Farouk el-Sharaa, the Syrian Foreign Minister, says there has been "slight progress" in talks on the areas to be demilitarised or "semi-demilitarised", but no movement on an overall withdrawal agreement. And, speaking in Beirut, he added that "violence in the south is not going to end until there is an Israeli withdrawal [from Lebanon]."

This is not good news for southern Lebanon. This year at least 99 people have been killed there in artillery bombardments and air raids that continued yesterday with shelling of villages by the SLA.

Disregarding the Hizbollah's current practice of firing Katyushas into Galilee only in response to Israeli attacks on Lebanese villages, the Israelis are now suggesting the Katyushas are fired without provocation - and that it is Hizbollah that must end its offensive in order to prevent Israeli attacks on civilians.

Thus Efraim Sneh, the Israeli Health Minister, has said Syria must curb Hizbollah's attacks on Israeli occupation troops if Damascus wants to move forward with a peace treaty - even though these Israeli soldiers are on Lebanese territory.

Syria's view is that disarming Hizbollah will merely relieve Israel of any incentive to withdraw from southern Lebanon and thus stiffen its demands for economic concessions in return for an Israeli evacuation.