Israel stepped up military action in Lebanon after a Katyusha rocket hit an apartment bloc in northern Israel shortly after dawn Tuesday, killing a sleeping 14-year-old boy and wounding his father, sister and infant nephew.
Israeli planes hit terrorist targets several hours after the attack on the Galilee panhandle town of Kiryat Shmona, in which two other persons sustained slight injuries.
Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon scored accurate hits against bases of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah and other terrorist groups north of the Israeli-controlled buffer zone, the Israeli army spokesman said.
The air sorties followed a day of intensive Israeli air, artillery and naval bombardment of Hezbollah and other terror bases across a broad front, from the coast in the west to the Har Dov region in the east.
Those attacks were in retaliation for the bombing of an Israeli army convoy by Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon on Sunday that left five soldiers dead and another five wounded.
There were also reports Tuesday of Israeli tanks and other military equipment streaming north toward the border, raising the possibility of a ground attack. But foreign news agencies quoted Israeli military sources as saying there were no imminent plans to mount such an assault.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made clear he was determined to “restore quiet” to the area. But he also said Israel would remain engaged in the peace talks in Washington rather than play into the hands of Moslem fundamentalist groups by walking out.
Similar sentiments were expressed in New York by the new Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gad Ya’acobi. In his maiden address to the U.N. General Assembly, Ya’acobi said provocation would not divert Israel from the peace track, though the country would defend its citizens with its “full force and authority.”
The rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona was the latest round in a cycle of violence that began last weekend with the killing of five soldiers in southern Lebanon and the shooting death of a soldier in the West Bank town of Hebron.
In Kiryat Shmona, Vadim Shuchman was killed when a rocket slammed into the wall of a second-floor enclosed balcony in which he was sleeping. His sister received treatment for light injuries but stayed at the hospital to help care for her seriously wounded 9-month-old son. The father, too, was seriously hurt.
The family arrived in Israel two years ago from the former Soviet Union.
Continued violence also was reported Tuesday in the administered territories.
In the West Bank town of Jenin, a 40-year-old member of Moshav Ganim, Motti Biton, suffered serious chest and head injuries when he was shot at close range. His wife returned fire with a pistol and sustained slight wounds.
In the Gaza Strip, a member of Moshav Netzer Hazani was struck with an ax in an attack by three Palestinians. He was hospitalized in Beersheba.
Those incidents and other recent terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians in the territories prompted hundreds of angry settlers to stage a rowdy demonstration in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening.
The demonstration, outside the prime minister’s official residence, turned violent, with protesters battling police and eventually being driven back by water cannon. Some two dozen arrests were made.
The government’s handling of the security situation also came under criticism in the Knesset. Knesset member Moshe Peled of the right-wing Tsomet party urged the government to call the peace negotiators home from Washington.
But other opposition politicians were less direct. Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir said suspension of the peace talks was something the government “might consider doing,” but he did not specifically recommend it.
Both coalition and opposition members questioned the efficacy of the heavy shelling attacks that began Monday against targets in southern Lebanon.
Eliahu Ben-Elissar of Likud and Yossi Sarid of the left-wing Meretz bloc, which is a partner in Rabin’s coalition, argued that the shelling achieved scant military effect while provoking terrorists to respond with Katyusha rockets.
Rabin, for his part, said Israel’s military actions were intended to “send signals” to the Syrians, in addition to directly punishing terrorist groups involved in the recent attacks on Israeli targets.
Rabin also explained his policy in southern Lebanon to the U.S. charge d’affaires, who came to see him on the instructions of acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, reportedly to urge restraint.
In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sent a message to the White House on Tuesday asserting that Iran bears major responsibility along with Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization for the upsurge of anti-Israel violence.
“As the party that convened and is hosting the Middle East peace talks, the United States has an obligation to insist that Syria end its support of Iranian and Palestinian terrorist gangs, and that the PLO order a halt to the latest round of violence by Palestinian groups that claim PLO membership,” the message said.
It was signed by Shoshana Cardin, the umbrella group’s chairman, and by Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive director.
One bright spot in the otherwise gloomy situation is that it may help resolve a domestic political crisis that threatened to unravel Rabin’s governing coalition.
Political observers believe the security situation will make it easier for the prime minister’s two feuding coalition partners, Shas and Meretz, to back away from their confrontation over recent controversial statements made by Education Minister Shulamit Aloni. The two parties are holding informal discussions and the hope is that they can resolve the crisis peaceably before a no-confidence vote in the Knesset next Monday.
Meanwhile, the two parties’ leaders, Arye Deri of the fervently Orthodox Shas and the avowedly secularist Aloni of Meretz, are participating together in the ongoing Cabinet consultations with Rabin over the unfolding situation in the north.