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French Version

Israelis trade heavy blows with Hizbullah, Palestinian groups

Cease-fire defuses worst clash since pullout in 2000

Clashes erupted in Lebanon on Sunday as the Israeli Air Force bombed Hizbullah and Palestinian bases, hours after rockets fired deep into the Jewish state wounded an Israeli soldier.

In what Israel said was its toughest attack since it ended a 22-year occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, the clashes along the already tense border ended at 6pm after UN peacekeepers brokered a cease-fire between Hizbullah and Israel.

One Palestinian militant from the pro-Syrian Popular Front for Liberating Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) and a Hizbullah fighter, Youssef Mohammed Alaeddine, were killed. Three Lebanese civilians (the youngest of whom was a 14-year-old-girl, Nour Ahmed al-Ashqar), two Israeli soldiers and five PFLP-GC fighters were wounded in the day's action.

Milos Strugar, senior adviser to the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said the UN was "in contact with both sides," and that "we brokered a cease-fire and we hope this agreement will take hold."

Hizbullah said it held Israel responsible for the fighting and promised to "continue the resistance" against Israeli aggression, "no matter the sacrifices."

In a statement, the resistance group also urged the Lebanese government to strongly condemn the attack.

Israel raided PFLP-GC posts in Sultan Yaacoub in the Bekaa Valley and Naameh, a few kilometers outside Beirut, after Katyusha rockets were fired on the northern Israeli town of Safed from South Lebanon.

"Following Sunday's rocket attack, we responded with air strikes against two terrorist targets in Lebanon. One of the targets was used to store weapons and ammunition," an Israeli military spokesman said.

Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora denounced the clashes, saying in a statement: "The Lebanese government condemns in the strongest possible terms the Israeli enemy's assault ... Israel continues on a daily basis to violate Lebanon's airspace and territorial waters and it continues to detain a number of Lebanese citizens in Israeli prisons."

"It is important to emphasize that the continued Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory in the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills is the reason behind the continued deteriora-

tion of the situation," he added. "Without the withdrawal of Israel, the state of tension and the likelihood of deterioration will continue to exist ... The Lebanese government is conducting, in collaboration with the leadership of the international peacekeeping unit and the leadership of the Lebanese Army, the necessary investigations to determine the conditions under which the rockets were launched from Lebanese territory in order to put an end to them."

But Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert warned that Israel would deal a "painful blow" to anyone who disrupted life for people in the north of his country.

At a joint press conference with President Moshe Katsav, Olmert added: "If they continue, they will live to regret it."

He said Israel was prepared to use "all means at its disposal," adding that "Israel did not initiate attacks in Lebanon. There should be no mistake. We will not tolerate it and will reach out for those who initiated it."

Residents of the two main towns in northern Israel were ordered to take cover, but after the cease-fire they were allowed to go out of the shelters.

"Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for any terror attack emanating from its territory, and will respond severely to such attacks," the Israeli military said in a statement.

An Israeli official said the army believed the rocket attack could have been in retaliation for last week's assassination of two Islamic Jihad officials in Sidon, killings Israel has denied having carried out.

On Friday, one of the faction's leaders, Abu Hamzeh, was assassinated by a car bomb that also killed his brother Nidal.

But Abu Imad al-Rifai, Islamic Jihad's representative in Lebanon, denied responsibility for the Katyushas.

He added that Jihad "reserves its right to retaliate for the crimes of the Israeli occupation and aggression."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "We have instructed our delegation at the UN to present a formal complaint against Lebanon to the president of the UN Security Council," said.

PFLP-GC official Anwar Raja said the Israeli raids were nothing new "because we have grown accustomed to Israeli aggression against the Palestinians everywhere. We will reply, but we don't need an Israeli act of aggression to reply."

The group's leader, Ahmad Jibril, had said in an interview published Sunday in Lebanon's Al-Balad daily that his group was coordinating its military actions with Hizbullah.

"The Israelis know we are closely linked with Hizbullah. We have long fought under their banner and our positions have been bombed many times after operations which were carried out by Hizbullah against Israel," Jibril said.

Sunday's Israeli shelling and air raids extended to several towns and villages in the South and the Bekaa. Witnesses said Israeli aircraft and artillery pounded several areas along various parts of the border.

The roads linking these towns and other areas were closed to both cars and pedestrians during the onslaught.

- With agencies, additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

Beirut 29-05-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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