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Fighting Rages in South Lebanon

March 26, 2000

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Israeli troops and allied militiamen battled Lebanese guerrillas late Sunday as President Clinton met Syrian President Hafez Assad in Geneva, Lebanese security officials said.

Officials of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militia said they detected guerrillas infiltrating the Israeli-occupied zone and opened fire with tank cannon and long-range artillery. Eight guerrillas were killed or wounded in the ensuing battle in Wadi Sluki, a valley north of the occupied zone, they said.

Lebanese officials said there was heavy fighting, but they could give no details.

The fighting took place as Clinton and Assad failed during three hours of face-to-face talks Sunday to nail down an agreement to restart negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Syria is the dominant power in Lebanon and maintains some 30,000 troops in the country.

Earlier Sunday, Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerillas fired at five positions in the Israeli-occupied zone, while Israeli shells damaged seven houses in the market town of Nabatiyeh, Lebanese officials said.

Israel has promised to withdraw from Lebanon by July.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday that a unilateral withdrawal would cost Israel $64 million for all the additional security that would be required, an official said on condition of anonymity. A withdrawal with Syrian and Lebanese compliance would cost $24 million, Barak said.

Israel has occupied a strip of south Lebanon since 1982 as a buffer against cross-border attacks.

Syria opposes a unilateral Israeli withdrawal because it needs the Lebanon card to pressure Israel into making a prior commitment to withdraw from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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