Israelis Hit Guerrilla Base South Of Beirut
NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) _ Israeli aircraft blasted Palestinian guerrillas Sunday afternoon, killing three people, wounding four and forcing the temporary closure of Beirut International Airport.
It was the third attack on guerrilla bases in Lebanon this year and among the heaviest since 1987 on Naameh, 10 miles south of Beirut.
A pair of fighter-bombers first hit the hills above this coastal village and the adjacent town of Damour. The region was quickly shrouded with black columns of smoke.
Waves of helicopter gunships flew in over the Mediterranean to blast the base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, one of the most radical factions opposed to peace with Israel.
The jets returned to attack the hilltop base of underground tunnels and concrete fortifications, which overlooks the coastal highway linking Beirut with south Lebanon.
Israeli aircraft staged 13 sorties within 90 minutes, each time firing at ground positions, police said.
Smoke engulfed the hills of Naameh and obscured the sprawling base of Ahmed Jibril’s Syrian-backed group. The base, the group’s biggest in Lebanon, has survived several Israeli attacks.
Police said the four wounded were civilians, but the identities of the dead were not immediately clear. Earlier, police said all casualties were civilian.
The guerrillas did not immediately comment on their losses.
The attack apparently was retaliation for a guerrilla ambush in south Lebanon on Wednesday that injured two Israeli soldiers. Four Palestinian guerrillas were killed.
Sunday’s air raid came after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin threatened Thursday to hit guerrillas attacking Israeli forces and their ally, the South Lebanon Army militia.
As the jets attacked Sunday, Lebanese and Syrian troops stationed along the southern coast launched anti-aircraft and machine-gun fire. No hits were reported.
The bombing runs, three miles south of Beirut airport, forced a 45-minute shutdown there. Arriving flights were diverted to Larnaca Airport on the neighboring Mediterranean island of Cyprus, the airport said.
Officials said they closed the airport to prevent accidents between military and civilian aircraft.
Police and army units also temporarily closed the busy southern coastal highway and urged motorists to stay off the road. Residents took to their balconies to watch jets streak across the clear afternoon sky.
Of 32 Israeli air raids into Lebanon in 1994, five targeted Naameh, killing six people _ including four guerrillas _ and injuring nine.
In 1987, Israeli commandos landed in the Naameh hills in an attempt to destroy the same group’s fortifications using bomb-rigged dogs. They withdrew after fierce, hand-to-hand combat.
The ambush Wednesday that apparently provoked Sunday’s attack was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine of George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The three Palestinian groups, based in Syria, oppose PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s peace deals with Israel. They are allied with Hezbollah, or Party of God, Iran’s main ally in Lebanon.
All four groups have vowed to sabotage the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process through stepped-up attacks from south Lebanon, the last active Arab-Israeli war front.