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Israelis on Lebanon Border Come Out

February 10, 2000

KIRYAT SHEMONA, Israel (AP) _ Residents of towns and villages along Israel’s border with Lebanon came out of bomb shelters this morning after the latest flare-up of fighting in south Lebanon eased.

Shops and factories reopened and people went back to work. After the army called the all-clear, children in pyjamas jumped around in the sun outside the shelters, where they had been cooped up for the past three days for fear that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon would retaliate for Israeli air strikes against Lebanese power stations by firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

The rockets did not come, and Israeli cabinet ministers indicated Wednesday that the operation is over.

``I hope everything will be OK,″ said Daniel Dadon, 51, as he walked with his 8-year-old daughter in the town of Kiryat Shemona. ``We just want quiet here, but I don’t think that this will be our last time in the shelters.″

Today, Israeli jets and artillery struck targets in Jabal al-Daher and the Zillaya valley, 12 miles north of the border, wounding one Hezbollah guerrilla, Lebanese security officials said. The area contains reinforced mountain caves used to hide Hezbollah weapons and supplies. There were no attacks by the guerrillas, the officials said.

Earlier this week, Israel launched a stepped-up operation by striking the power stations after Hezbollah attacks killed five Israeli soldiers over the past few weeks. A sixth was killed in this week’s exchanges. The Israeli army occupies a strip of land in south Lebanon to protect Israel’s northern border against guerrilla attacks, and Hezbollah is fighting to oust the Israeli troops from the south.

The casualties caused intense anger and frustration in Israel, coming on the heels of the suspension of peace talks with Syria. Israel also said that in the attacks Hezbollah fired rockets from inside Lebanese villages.

Israeli ministers said this was a violation of understandings reached by Israel, Syria and Lebanon to avoid putting civilians on either side of the border in the crossfire.

Israel holds Syria responsible for Hezbollah operations, because the flow of arms from Iran to the guerillas comes across its territory and because Damascus is the main power in Lebanon.

Both sides claimed victory in the exchanges of the past few days. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel had changed the understandings in order to protect its soldiers in Lebanon, not only civilians in northern Israel.

``The important change of principle that happened this week is that the IDF carried out a large-scale operation in Lebanon, including damage to infrastructure, not in response to firing of Katyushas at civilians but in response to casualties inflicted on our soldiers in Lebanon,″ Sneh told Israel radio.

However, the assistant secretary general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said Israel failed to achieve its aim of changing the rules of the game and driving a wedge between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government and people.

In a radio interview he pointed out that Hezbollah attacks had killed the sixth Israeli soldier after the bombing of the power stations. Hezbollah had not found it necessary to fire Katyushas into Israel but reserved the right to do so in the future, Qassem said.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to pull the army out of Lebanon by July, responding to growing public weariness with casualties among Israeli soldiers.

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