Israelis Kill Three Guerrillas as Christopher Due In Syria
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (AP) _ Israeli troops fired on guerrillas as they planted bombs in southern Lebanon today, killing three, security sources said. The deaths provoked heavy shelling hours before the U.S. secretary of state held peace talks in Syria.
Violence often escalates in southern Lebanon, the last active warfront in the Arab-Israeli conflict, when Secretary of State Warren Christopher tries to mediate between Syria and Israel.
Security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fighting began after sentries in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon spotted Hezbollah guerrillas planting roadside bombs near the village of Beit Leef.
Israeli units and their surrogate South Lebanon Army militia opened fire with tanks and machine-guns, while artillery blasted suspected trails of the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim guerrillas, the sources said.
Three guerrillas were killed and a militiaman was wounded, they said.
Shortly after, three other militiamen were wounded in a guerrilla bomb ambush on a militia patrol outside the village of Rashaf, near Beit Leef, the sources reported.
The violence escalated further as Hezbollah fighters fired Katyusha rockets and mortar shells into the occupied border enclave while Israeli gunners pounded a string of Shiite villages north of the buffer zone with barrages of 155mm howitzer fire.
By mid-afternoon, the two sides had fired an estimated 350 shells and rockets with no sign of letting up, the sources said.
Forty Hezbollah rockets and mortar rounds hit the village of Debel, east of Beit Leef inside the buffer zone. Debel is the home of the militia’s security chief, Akel Hashem.
There was no word of casualties from the shellfire.
Christopher said he expected no breakthrough from his three-hour stop in Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he met with President Hafez Assad in an effort to revive deadlocked Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
Syria is the main power in Lebanon and is influential with Hezbollah, which leads a guerrilla campaign to drive Israel from the zone it occupied since 1985 to protect its northern towns from cross-border raids.