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Israel Asserts That Increased Violence Will Not Disrupt Talks in Washington

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin conferred with Cabinet ministers late into Tuesday night about how to respond to the increased Hezbollah violence from southern Lebanon.

But officials made clear the attacks by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group, would not be allowed to disrupt the peace talks in Washington.

“Neither we nor the Arabs want to put the future of the talks in the hands of the Hezbollah,” said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

A similar view was voiced by Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur. Answering questions from the Knesset on Wednesday, he said the pace of talks in Washington was “irrelevant” to a decision by the government “whether, when and how” to strike at the Iranian-backed group.

Israeli leaders singled out Syria as a key to curbing Hezbollah, which lobbed heavy-caliber Katyusha rockets into northern Israel for two successive nights earlier this week, forcing residents from Nahariya, on the coast, to Kiryat Shmona, in the Galilee panhandle, into shelters.

Peres said Damascus had it in its power to adopt “effective measures” to restrain the terrorists who operate in Syrian-controlled territory. A respite in shelling kept the border area quiet Tuesday night. But Israelis in the north spent a third night in the shelters and anti-blast rooms in anticipation of a possible renewal of hostile activities as Israeli tanks and troops massed on the border.

Analysts say Hezbollah has in practice adopted a new “red line” in its confrontation with Israel.

The group reserves the right to retaliate for any Israeli attack on its bases. Israeli air strikes on its outposts deep within Lebanon, after almost routine terrorist attacks on a South Lebanese Army base in the Israeli-controlled security zone in southern Lebanon, is viewed by the terrorists as an Israeli deviation from the rules of the game.

Since the end of October, Hezbollah has placed roadside bombs in the security zone on an almost daily basis, targeted at Israeli troops and their allies in the South Lebanese Army.

The group also regularly directs fire at the security zone. The fire is sometimes returned by the Israelis and their Lebanese allies.

An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Hadashot said that in the struggle with terrorism, Israel cannot accept the red lines dictated by Hezbollah and the Syrians.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem.)

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