TEL AVIV (Jul. 31)
The Israel Defense Force has declined to comment on reports that it has taken part in a mini-civil war raging between rival militias and guerrilla bands in southern Lebanon.
If the reports are correct, however, the IDF’s involvement would ironically be in support of factions that include the Palestine Liberation Organization against the pro-Iranian, Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah (Party of God).
Moreover, the Moslem Shi’ite group Amal is also reported to have joined in the fighting, along with its traditional foes.
According to some reports, Israeli tank fire killed 10 Hezbollah guerrillas and wounded four in Jarjouh village Monday.
Over 200 Lebanese have been killed and more than 600 wounded in fighting during the past two weeks, which has been marked by shifting alliances, according to the reports.
Gen. Dan Shomron, IDF chief of staff, told reporters in the region that Israel has no intention of interfering in Lebanon’s internal wars unless the situation threatens Israel’s security.
In Tel Aviv before the reported Israeli shelling, Defense Minister Moshe Arens said Israel would intervene if it felt imperiled.
Although “we wouldn’t be happy to get involved,” Arens said, “we will act if our interests are in danger.”
The current fighting is taking place about 11 miles north of the Israeli border.
Shomron visited the southern Lebanon security zone Sunday, accompanied by Maj. Gen. Yossi Peleg, commander of the northern region. They conferred with Gen. Antoine Lehad, commander of the Israel-backed SLA.
Reports from the area said IDF tanks have fired at Hezbollah positions under seige by the rival Shi’ite Moslem Amal militia, temporarily supported by the PLO.
The latest clashes started on July 16, when the pro-Syrian Amal tried to retake five villages in the Iqlim al-Toufah region, which Hezbollah captured in fierce fighting last December.
Amal and Hezbollah have been competing for the loyalty of the native Shi’ite population. Hezbollah and the PLO are vying for leadership in the Palestinian uprising in the territories.
In this round of fighting, fighters of Al Fatah, the main wing of the PLO, were deployed on hilltops overlooking the battle zone, ostensibly to ensure the safety of Palestinian refugee camps east of Sidon.
The PLO sided with Amal against Hezbollah, apparently because it fears the spread of Moslem fundamentalism.
Islamic Resistance, an umbrella organization of pro-Iranian groups that includes Hezbollah, said the Israeli attacks bolster its resolve to continue to struggle against Israel.
“The war against Israel is a legitimate duty which cannot be abandoned,” Islamic Resistance said in a statement.