Tel Aviv (Mar. 17)
Premier Menachem Begin expressed “deep sorrow” today over the “tragic incidents” in south Lebanon yesterday. He was referring to the killing of two soldiers of the Nigerian contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the wounding of II other UNIFIL soldiers and nine Lebanese civilians and army personnel in the shelling of Kantara village by Christian forces headed by Maj. Saad Haddad.
Begin said he was prepared to meet with representatives of the Lebanese government to discuss the situation and seek ways to relieve the tension. He was speaking in Kiryat Shemona, the border town that was the target of terrorist rocket attacks from Lebanon last month, where he dedicated two quarters — one named after Zeev Jabotinsky, Begin’s hero and mentor, and the other named after Yigal Allon, a long-time political rival.
Begin said that Israel wanted no incidents with UNIFIL and credited some of the units of the UN peacekeeping force with doing a good job to prevent terrorist infiltration of Israel’s border. He said the terrorists in south Lebanon were now equipped with sophisticated weapons, including tanks. Later, Begin attended a memorial service in Tel Hai for Yosef Trumpeldor who died in the defense of that settlement in the early 1920s.
PLO BLAMED FOR TENSION IN AREA
As Begin toured the northern region today, tension continued high in south Lebanon where UNIFIL was reported to be deploying anti-tank weapons in the area of yesterday’s clash between the Christian militia and Lebanese army regulars. Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, meanwhile, blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization for the deteriorating situation in south Lebanon.
Speaking on a radio interview, Arens claimed the tension resulted from an “imbalance” created by the presence of PLO terrorists and units of the Lebanese army controlled by the Beirut government. According to Arens, the soldiers of the 21st Lebanese Army Brigade, mainly Moslems hostile to Haddad’s largely Christian force, were sent to south Lebanon following a meeting between President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon and President Hafez Assad of Syria. He charged that the Lebanese regulars were provoking friction.
Arens claimed also that as long as UNIFIL controlled the area between Haddad’s Christian enclave in the south and the PLO further north, a balance had been maintained. But now the terrorists have taken up positions in the UNIFIL controlled area, he said.