Israeli warplanes blast Hezbollah areas

Published August 10, 2003 4:11PM (EDT)

Israeli warplanes bombed suspected Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon on Sunday hours after the militant group shelled northern Israel, killing a teenage boy.

It was Israel's first civilian death from a shelling along the northern border since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in May 2000.

The attacks came amid an increase in border violence following months of calm. Earlier Sunday, Israel's foreign minister demanded that Syria and Lebanon restrain Hezbollah, or ``we will have no choice but to defend ourselves.''

A senior military source said Israel's inner security Cabinet would meet Sunday to discuss a further military response, and that more strikes could be expected.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel would choose ``the time, the place and the method of our response.''

``Israel has no intention of escalation,'' he said, but added: ``Israel will not tolerate any escalation of this sort that causes the death of its citizens along the border.''

The Lebanese officials said warplanes fired at least one missile on an area near the village of Teir Harfa, about two miles from the Lebanese-Israeli border. There was no immediate word on casualties, said the officials, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The Israeli military said fighter planes hit Hezbollah artillery positions in southern Lebanon that were responsible for shelling the northern Israeli town of Shlomi earlier Sunday.

A 16-year-old boy was killed and four adults were lightly wounded by shrapnel, a spokesman for the hospital in nearby Nahariya said.

The Lebanese militant group, backed by Iran and Syria, said it had fired anti-aircraft shells at Israeli fighter jets flying over southern Lebanon, but Israeli security officials denied its aircraft were in the area at the time.

Dore Gold, an adviser to Sharon, said the shelling constituted ``unbridled escalatory attacks, ... an intolerable state of affairs.''

Hezbollah routinely responds to Israeli air force flights over Lebanon with anti-aircraft fire, but tensions have worsened in recent days.

On Friday, Israel and Hezbollah exchanged artillery fire over a disputed area near the confluence of the Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli borders _ the first such exchange in eight months.

Hezbollah said Friday's shelling was retaliation for the Aug. 2 killing of Hezbollah security official Ali Hussein Saleh by a bomb in his car south of Beirut. Hezbollah blames Israel for his death.

Anti-aircraft shells also fell Saturday on the northern town of Kiryat Shemona, but no injuries were reported.

On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom held Lebanon and Syria _ which dominates Lebanese policy-making _ responsible for Hezbollah's actions.

``We say to Syria and Lebanon as responsible parties for Hezbollah behavior ... that if Hezbollah activities continue and constitute an undermining of security of the citizens of Israel, we will have no choice but to defend ourselves,'' Shalom said. He declined to elaborate.

``We don't want to use the language of threats now and say what we will do and how we will do it,'' he said. ``I think the regime in Syria knows very well what our capabilities are, and I don't think it's worthwhile for it to put us to the test.''

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations also sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan holding Syria and Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's ``acts of terror,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Yonatan Peled said Saturday.

American diplomats also told Lebanon and Syria that the administration was concerned about the ``calculated and provocative escalation'' by Hezbollah, State Department deputy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheik Naeem Qassem said Sunday that Hezbollah ``is fully prepared and ready to respond in the proper manner to any Israel aggression or threat.''

Syria's state-run Tishrin newspaper charged in an editorial Sunday that Israel was trying ``to expand the circle of its aggression and deliberately provoke and threaten more than one Arab country,'' in hopes of slowing progress on the ``road map'' peace plan with the Palestinians long enough to deal with its internal problems.

Israel withdrew its forces from a self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon in May 2000, following more than a decade of low-level warfare with Hezbollah, including frequent Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israeli towns. Since then, the level of violence between the sides has declined sharply.

Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations, led a guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of the border zone in southern Lebanon.

By Peter Enav

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