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Israeli Jets Strike South Lebanon After Bomb Explosion Sunday, November 26, 2000 By Shibli Abi-Assi

KFAR CHOUBA, Lebanon Israel sent warplanes Sunday to strike southern Lebanon for the first time in six months, responding to roadside bomb that was detonated by Hezbollah guerrillas and reportedly injured several soldiers on patrol in a disputed border area, security officials said.

In a statement issued in Beirut, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the bombing in the Chebaa Farms area where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet, saying its guerrillas scored "direct hits" on the Israeli patrol. Israel's army radio said the blast injured several soldiers.

The Hezbollah statement said the group was performing its "duty to complete the liberation of the occupied territory, a reference to a border enclave occupied by Israeli troops for 18 years before they withdrew in May.

Hezbollah, which led the guerrilla war against Israeli forces the occupation, insists Israel's pullout from the area is incomplete as long as the Chebaa Farms remain under Israeli control.

Shortly after the 6:40 a.m. (11:40 p.m. EST Saturday) explosion, two Israeli fighter jets fired six missiles in three sorties targeting suspected guerrilla hideouts in hills near the village of Kfar Chouba, about a mile from the Chebaa Farms, Lebanese officials said on condition of anonymity.

In the first Israeli air raid since the May 24 withdrawal, the jets targeted an observation post for Hezbollah guerrillas in the area. Such positions are usually evacuated after the guerrillas stage an attack to avoid retaliatory Israeli strikes.

At least one person was injured on the Lebanese side: A Syrian construction worker said he was building a wall by the road near Kfar Chouba when the jets roared overhead, and was hit by flying debris.

Israeli artillery also pounded suspected guerrilla hideouts in the same area intermittently for over three hours after the attack, while helicopters combed the area, apparently searching for guerrillas or bombs.

U.N. peacekeepers at observation posts nearby estimated more than 100 artillery shells were fired at hills near Kfar Chouba, U.N. sources said on condition of anonymity. It was the fiercest Israeli shelling since the withdrawal.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak briefed his Cabinet about the bombing and said the army was "on high alert" for more Hezbollah attacks.

The Israeli army said it sent warplanes to attack targets inside Lebanon along the eastern side of the border and that the planes returned safely to Israel.

Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press in Jerusalem that Hezbollah also shot rockets and mortars toward the eastern side of the Lebanon-Israel border.

The Hezbollah statement did not mention a rocket and mortar attack.

Lebanon and Syria consider the uninhabited Chebaa Farms to be Lebanese territory. Israel and the United Nations consider it part of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed in 1981.

On Nov. 16, two Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded when Hezbollah guerrillas detonated six roadside bombs against an Israeli patrol in the Chebaa Farms area.

On Oct. 7, Hezbollah guerrillas captured three Israeli soldiers in the area to exchange them for prisoners in Israel. Israel has since resumed flights over Lebanon, with helicopters occasionally attacking targets near the border.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 26, 2000


Violence Spreads to Israel-Lebanon Border By Howard Goller Nov 26 3:20pm ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Already battling Palestinians, Israel said Sunday it had no intention of being dragged into a wider conflict along its northern borders after Lebanese guerrillas killed an Israeli soldier.

In a bid to lower the intensity of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two Israeli generals met senior Palestinian security officials, the army said. Similar talks in past weeks have failed to end two months of clashes that have killed 275 people, mainly Palestinians.

Israel pointed an accusing finger at Syria and Iran after Hizbollah guerrillas set off a roadside bomb deep inside Israeli-controlled territory near the Lebanese frontier.

``Bashar gave permission,'' said Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. ``Iran gives the orders, and we carried out a limited response,'' he told Israeli television.

After the soldier was killed in the blast, Israel mounted air and artillery attacks that wounded at least one Lebanese. But Sneh said Israel would not be trapped in what he called a ''ping-pong'' pattern of guerrilla raids and retaliation.

``Hizbollah wants to drag us into a confrontation on four fronts -- we're not interested,'' Sneh said, alluding to adding clashes with Syria to the current violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and disputed areas along the Lebanese border.

Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday that fighting was the only way to regain the site of the explosion, the Shebaa Farms area that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Hizbollah fought a war of attrition until Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon in May, ending a 22-year occupation. But Lebanon and Syria say the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese and consider Israel's pullout incomplete.

Both Israel and Lebanon said they would file complaints to the U.N. Security Council following the latest border violence.

In the West Bank, gunfire echoed again after nightfall on a familiar firing line between the Palestinian village of Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem, and Gilo, a Jewish settlement which Israel regards as a neighborhood of Jerusalem.


Israel pointed nonetheless at a drop in tensions since Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke by telephone Friday in a call arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was hosting the Palestinian leader.

``There has been a decrease (in Israeli-Palestinian fighting) compared with the last few days,'' said Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who planned to go to Russia, a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, later in the week.

Palestinians want a bigger peace role for Moscow to counterbalance that of Washington, Israel's closest ally.

Earlier in the day, efforts to resolve the conflict shifted to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak and Danny Yatom, Barak's top security advisor, met for about 45 minutes.

``The Egyptian president expressed outright support for the demand that the violence must be stopped and even called on Israel and the Palestinians to renew their dialogue,'' a statement issued by Barak's office said.

Mubarak told Yatom that Arafat, who held talks with the Egyptian President Saturday, also wanted ``an immediate cessation of the violence and resumption of ties with Israel,'' the statement said.

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. The visit kept up contact with the Jewish state despite Cairo's recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv Tuesday and accusing Israel of aggression against Palestinians.


Political sources in Israel said Arafat held a secret meeting with Israeli officials in the Gaza Strip Saturday night.

They said minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former army chief, and Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet intelligence service known for contacts with Palestinian officials, had met the Palestinian leader at Barak's behest.

Lipkin-Shahak declined to confirm or deny the meeting. A senior Palestinian, who declined to be identified, denied it.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian died of wounds sustained previously and Israeli snipers shot two 15-year-old boys at the Karni crossing to the Gaza Strip, wounding one in the eye and the other in the head, Palestinian hospital and police officials said. The army said it knew nothing of the incident.

Exchanges of gunfire also erupted near the West Bank town of Qalqilya and at least one Palestinian was wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.

In Germany, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow would back an international peacekeeping force, but denied that Moscow had developed a new Middle East peace plan.

Arafat sent Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo to New York to work with a fact-finding commission on the violence led by U.S. Senator George Mitchell, a Palestinian official said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein urged Palestinians to continue the uprising and ignore ``short-sighted political solutions'' sponsored by Washington.

Barak told cabinet ministers Sunday that Israel's economy was solid despite the unrest, with growth anticipated at 5.4 percent, nearly double the target, and low inflation.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 26, 2000.

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