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Israel Weighing Possible Responses to Terrorist Shellings of Towns

The Cabinet met in special closed session for four hours this morning to discuss the situation on the northern border. It convened as a ministerial defense committee, the deliberations of which are classified. But it was assumed that the ministers weighed possible responses to the Palestinian shelling of border towns in northern Israel yesterday following Israeli air raids on terrorist targets in Lebanon.

No statement was issued after the meeting. The ministers were briefed by Chief of Staff Gen. Rafoe Eitan, Gen. David Ivri, the Air Force commander, and other senior officers. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon came to the meeting directly from an early morning tour of northern Israel where he met with villagers who had spent the night in bomb shelters.

Military sources said that about 100 shells and rockets were fired from across the Lebanese border yesterday evening without causing casualties or damage. It has been Israel’s declared policy to react to what it considers to be violations by the Palestine Liberation Organization of the cease-fire that has been in effect along the Lebanese border since last July.

According to a military spokesman, yesterday’s air strikes over Lebanon were ordered because of serious breaches of the cease-fire during the last two weeks by the PLO. The same was true of the April 21 Israeli air attacks on PLO targets in Lebanon. But those drew no direct response from the PLO, in contrast to the shell and rocket attacks on towns in northern Israel yesterday.

TRYING TO AVOID WAR OF ATTRITION

Israel maintains that the cease-fire applies to any and all terrorist assaults on Israel, the occupied territories or Israeli installations or personnel abroad. The PLO contends that it applies only to hostile acts across the Lebanese border. Sharon told residents of northern Israel this morning that Israel does not want a renewal of the terrorist war of attrition which seriously disrupted normal life in that region last year.

At the same time, he said, Israel could not maintain peace on its northern border at the cost of allowing the terrorists to attack across other borders or overseas. This was seen as a hint that Israel is preparing to hit Palestinian targets in Lebanon again. Opinion appears to be divided among residents of northern Israel towns. Some have urged massive retaliation in response to yesterday’s shelling while others favor restraint to avoid a wholesale outbreak of hostilities along the border.

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