TEL AVIV (Mar. 4)
Attacks on Israel Defense Force units continued to escalate in south Lebanon last night and this morning despite the Cabinet’s decision yesterday to begin the second stage of the Israel Defense Force’s withdrawal from south Lebanon immediately. There were no Israeli casualties reported in any of the incidents.
The situation was complicated by an explosion today which wrecked a mosque killing at least 12 persons and injuring 45 in Marrake village, 14 kilometers east of Tyre. The blast, caused by an estimated 50 kilograms of high explosives, occurred less than two days after IDF units conducted a massive search of the Shiite village, killing one Shiite Moslem guerrilla and arresting 17 other suspects. The Israelis imposed a 24 hour curfew on the town after seizing large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
Lebanese sources, including the Christian Phalangists, Israel’s one-time ally, promptly blamed the IDF for the carnage. The fatalities were said to include several leaders of the Shiite militia, Amal, who were meeting on the second floor of the building at the time. A spokesperson for the IDF denied any Israeli involvement, pointing out that no IDF personnel were in the village today.
But Muhammed Mahdi Shamus-A-Din, spiritual leader of the Lebanese Shiites, called today for a “jihad” (holy war) against the Israelis. Initial reports said the blast occurred inside the mosque. Later reports said a booby-trapped car blew up just outside the building during a funeral procession.
GUERRILLA KILLED IN CLASH
A Lebanese guerrilla was killed in a clash with an IDF patrol near the Kasmiye bridge over the Litani River yesterday. There were five more attacks on IDF patrols or positions in south Lebanon last night and this morning and four during the course of the day. In the latest of these, a patrol was fired upon north of Adassiye village, another in the center of Tyre and a grenade was thrown at the building housing the IDF liaison unit in Tyre.
Late this afternoon, a patrol came under fire near Bidyas village, the site of two attacks yesterday. The IDF headquarters in Nabatiya was also hit twice in the past 12 hours, marking the 23rd and 24th times the building has been a target in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin offered different timetables for completion of the second stage of the IDF’s withdrawal which involves the evacuation of the eastern sector of south Lebanon where the Israelis face Syrian forces across the Bekaa valley.
Peres, addressing high school students in Eilat today said the second stage should be completed within a few weeks, weather permitting. Rabin, who was touring Galilee today, told reporters the pace of the withdrawal would depend on tactical questions and stage two would be completed within two to three months. Both ministers said the government would decide on the third and final stage–back to the international border–after the second stage has been accomplished. According to Rabin, all Israeli soldiers will be home by Rosh Hashana, eight months from now.
Peres explained that weather is an important factor. It is almost impossible to dismantle and transport equipment from such sites as the IDF’s observation and listening post atop Mt. Barukh in the bitter cold and snow that prevails there. He also said that the IDF’s “iron fist” policy to deal harshly with terrorists and guerrillas in south Lebanon might blemish Israel’s image in the short run but is essential in the long run to protect the lives of Israel’s soldiers while they remain in Lebanon.
Rabin told residents of Metullah in Upper Galilee that the IDF could not guarantee that a stray Katyusha rocket or two would never again fall on Jewish towns in the north. But it would prevent the establishment of “organized terrorism” across the border, he said.
The Defense Minister stressed that Israel wants peace on both sides of the border. “They (the Lebanese) have two choices. Either there will be peace on both sides — no terrorist acts by them against us–or there will be sharp reactions on our part, not only to protect our soldiers as long as they are in Lebanon but in the future as well,” he said.
Peres, in his talk, lashed out at President Amin Gemayel of Lebanon for calling for attacks on the IDF when he knows it is on the way out of his country. He said he was “shocked” by Gemayel’s ingratitude, especially since it was Israel which, at the request of his late brother, the assassinated President-elect Bashir Gemayel, that Israel helped put down attacks on Lebanese Christians over the past two years.