TEL AVIV (Nov. 3)
Israel has ceased shelling positions in southern Lebanon, according to some reports because of pressure from the United States.
Washington had expressed concern that the stepped-up Israeli military activity in southern Lebanon could derail the Middle East peace conference in Madrid.
In an Israel Radio interview Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens would neither confirm nor deny reports that U.S. pressure had silenced the Israeli barrage. The area was the source of attacks last week on Israeli troops by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God.
Last week, Arens said the Madrid peace conference would not deter Israel from taking measures to ensure the safety of its population along the northern border.
An upsurge of guerrilla activity in and around the southern Lebanon security zone over the past week, mainly from Hezbollah quarters, was aimed at preventing the Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Attacks have left six Israel Defense Force soldiers dead and six wounded, victims of land mine explosions and predawn skirmishes with infiltrators.
The IDF and its allied South Lebanon Army retaliated heavily with artillery and tank fire aimed at Shi’ite villages north of the security zone, where the Hezbollah fighters were believed to have local support and shelter.
The Israeli air force bombed terrorist targets and followed up with strafing attacks by helicopter gunships.
But the IDF dismissed reports of a massive military buildup in the region and denied that it had warned villagers north of the security zone to evacuate their homes to get out of the way of a major new offensive.
News reports Saturday claimed Israel had given the Shi’ite villagers in the region 12 hours to evacuate the zone.
But Israeli military sources said the order had come either from the SLA or a local Israeli commander.
Warnings appear to have been broadcast by the SLA-sponsored Voice of the South radio station.
There were reports of villagers fleeing Saturday, but by Sunday there were reports of many returning home.
Israeli military sources said Israel had asked the SLA to stop calling for an evacuation of the zone.