Israeli Soldier Killed, More Wounded in Guerrilla Attack With AM-Lifting the Siege, Bjt
NABATIYEH, Lebanon (AP) _ Iranian-backed guerrillas attacked an Israeli post in an occupied strip of south Lebanon Saturday and claimed to have overrun it and set it ablaze. The fighting touched off artillery battles.
The Israeli army said one Israeli soldier was killed and two were wounded. Security sources in south Lebanon, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one Lebanese civilian was killed and 13 people were wounded, including five Israeli soldiers.
It was the fourth straight day of fighting in south Lebanon, the last active war front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The escalation of hostilities was seen as a message that Arab extremists remain determined to block peace treaties with Israel.
A few hours after the morning assault near the village of Dabshe, guerrillas of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, or Party of God, fired a rocket- propelled grenade at an Israeli patrol in Aishiyeh, 1 1/2 miles to the north, inside the Israelis’ self-designated security zone.
The security sources said there were no casualties in the second attack.
The recent spate of violence flared Wednesday, when Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in a ceremony attended by President Clinton, who ended his six-country, peace-promoting swing through the region early Saturday in Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s environment minister, Yossi Sarid, said it was possible that Syria, the undisputed power in Lebanon, ″is convinced that aggression by Hezbollah ... will be useful to Syria in the negotiations ... and perhaps even lead to Israeli concessions.
″But such acts only lead to a hardening of Israeli positions,″ he told Israel army radio.
In Beirut, President Elias Hrawi said Lebanon was prepared to establish a committee with Israel to draw up a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, Egypt’s Middle East News Agency reported.
It was the first time that Hrawi had made such an offer since peace talks began three years ago. How seriously it will be taken is questionable. The Israelis have said they will only pull out when Syria withdraws its 40,000 troops in Lebanon.
″I pledge that not one single bullet would be fired during this period if Israel commits itself to a withdrawal,″ Hrawi said.
He did not explain how he would silence Hezbollah’s guerrillas, who have refused to disarm under the peace accord that ended Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, saying they need their weapons to liberate south Lebanon.
The fighting Saturday was triggered by the hit-and-run Hezbollah attack on the Dabshe outpost.
In a statement issued in Nabatiyeh, a southern market town, Hezbollah said its fighters stormed the hilltop position after combat at close quarters and set it ablaze.
The guerrillas planted Hezbollah flags atop the burning post before retreating to their bases outside the Israeli-occupied enclave, the statement said.
The Israeli army denied the Dabshe base was overrun. But Lebanese security sources said Israeli tanks and artillery bombarded Dabshe after the attack. That indicated the guerrillas had overrun the area.
First Sgt. Almog Klein, 20, was killed in the attack and two soldiers were slightly wounded, the Israeli army spokesman’s office said.
Israeli artillery retaliated, lobbing more than 50 155mm howitzer shells around Nabatiyeh and the nearby village of Kfar Rumman, north of the security zone.
One civilian was killed and four people, including a Hezbollah guerrilla, wounded. The shelling started several fires in olive groves and pine woods.
Israeli fighter-bombers staged repeated mock air raids, breaking the sound barrier and causing thunderous sonic booms that sent thousands of panicked residents scurrying for shelter.
Schools closed and children were bused home in Nabatiyeh, a town of 60,000 inhabitants. Merchants closed their shops and drivers raced off the main streets in a horn-honking clamor.
The sources said Hezbollah guerrillas struck back with salvos of Katyusha rockets on Marjayoun and the village of Taibe, 2 miles from Israel’s northern border in a sector held by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
They said three Lebanese civilians and an SLA militiaman were wounded.
Hezbollah, a Muslim fundamentalist group opposed to the peace negotiations, has vowed to undermine the talks by increasing its attacks on the security zone.
The group is leading a guerrilla war to drive the Israelis out of the 440 square-mile enclave, patrolled by 1,200 Israeli troops and 2,500 Lebanese militiamen.