JERUSALEM (Apr. 5)
Israeli military sources said today that they had no confirmation of reports that Syrian forces in Lebanon were supporting a major counter-attack launched by Palestinian Moslems against right-wing Christians in southern Lebanon yesterday. The sources stressed, however, that there was no confirmation “so far,” indicating that Israel did not rule out possible Syrian involvement in the renewed fighting.
The fighting took place around Taibe, a Moslem village south of the Litani River only three miles from Israel’s border. Palestinians also attacked in the vicinity of Qlaia, Merj Ayun and Khiam, Christian strongholds. According to reports from Beirut, the Palestinians were operating in close coordination with Syrian peace-keeping forces deployed just north of the fighting area.
Yesterday Israeli artillery fired at “terrorist targets” in southern Lebanon. Military sources said a terrorist mortar position was silenced after several shells landed near Kibbutz Misgav-Am near the Lebanese border.
FIGHTING REVIVES CONCERN
The resumption of fighting between Moslem and Christian forces in Lebanon has revived concern that Israel and Syria once again may be moving toward a confrontation in southern Lebanon. Syrian troops comprise the bulk of the Arab peace-keeping force in Lebanon but the Syrians also control Al Saiqa, a Palestinian terrorist organization, through which they provide military support for the Moslems.
Any direct Syrian involvement would be viewed by Israel as a violation of the understanding with Damascus that Syrian troops would respect the “red line” in Lebanon. The “red line” represents a point, usually identified as the Litani River, beyond which the presence of Syrian troops would not be accepted by Israel. It is also said to represent any deployment of Syrian forces that Israel saw as a threat to its borders.
The Moslem counter-attack followed recent military moves by the Christian militia to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon adjacent to the Israeli border. The Christians almost succeeded but the Moslems appear determined to regain control of southern Lebanon, Israeli sources said.