Syria bares teeth over peace deal: Hizbollah attacks Israeli positions in Lebanon

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The Independent Online
THE TIMING was perfect. At precisely 6.15am yesterday morning, dozens of Hizbollah guerrillas simultaneously attacked eight Israeli artillery positions in southern Lebanon, overwhelming one and capturing 12 pro-Israeli militiamen before firing scores of Katyusha rockets into the occupation zone north of the Israeli frontier. Brigadier General Mordechai Gur, the Israeli deputy defence minister, accused Syria of responsibility for the Hizbollah offensive - and not without reason.

For the attacks, which also wounded two Israeli soldiers, were not just militarily co- ordinated. They came only a day after Syria demanded international pressure on Israel for a total withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and 12 hours after Abdul-Halim Khaddam, the Syrian Vice-President, claimed that Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), had 'fallen into a trap' by reaching his accord with Israel on 13 September. Whenever Syria wishes to show its displeasure at the course of negotiations for a Middle East peace, southern Lebanon pays the price.

Hizbollah claimed victory after capturing intact the Tallousa artillery compound which was manned entirely by Lebanese militiamen of the Israeli-sponsored 'South Lebanon Army' (SLA), 12 of whom were captured and taken out of the Israeli occupation zone, apparently to the Bekaa valley. Hizbollah holds six SLA men from earlier attacks. The Israeli army followed its latest practice of delayed response by waiting at least four hours before sending a platoon of soldiers in tanks and armoured personnel carriers to the rescue of their proxy militiamen - arriving at Tallousa to find the compound deserted and the Hizbollah troops safely out of the area with their prisoners.

By way of retaliation, Israeli jets later bombed three targets near Baalbek - which they claimed were Hizbollah bases - while Israeli gun batteries fired hundreds of shells into 10 villages north of the occupation zone. The bombardment provoked an equally powerful response from Hizbollah, which sent Katyushas into the Lebanese frontier district which the Israelis still refer to as their 'security zone'. The two Israeli soldiers were wounded by a Hizbollah rocket which exploded in the Lebanese village of Odeisseh, scarcely 20 feet from the border. Hizbollah later said one of its guerrillas had been killed and two others wounded in the initial assault on the artillery compounds.

General Gur insisted that there was 'no doubt the Syrians are behind this', adding that the offensive by the Iranian-funded Hizbollah - whose supply lines run through Syrian-held territory in Lebanon - was President Hafez al-Assad's way of saying that 'there will be no Middle East peace without Syria'.

Many Lebanese had predicted just such an offensive after Mr Khaddam's latest warning on Golan. 'If there is no serious progress towards a total withdrawal from Golan on the part of the Israelis,' the Syrian Vice-President said, 'then it's difficult to imagine a resumption of negotiations.' His call for international pressure on the Israelis to withdraw from Golan is now, it seems, being augmented by a more familiar pressure; that of Hizbollah upon Israel's increasingly demoralised militia in southern Lebanon.

JERUSALEM - Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian teenager, and another Arab was killed stabbing an Israeli policeman in a surge of violence in the occupied territories yesterday, Reuter reports.

The killings brought the death toll to 20 Palestinians and 11 Israelis since Israel and the PLO signed the peace deal.

Palestinians said soldiers on patrol in the occupied West Bank town of al-Bireh fired at students, fatally wounding Rami Izat al-Ghazzawi, the 16- year-old son of a prominent Palestinian writer and university lecturer. Israeli security sources said the youths had stoned passing Jewish settlers.