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Israel Scales Back Lebanon Force As Calm Returns to Northern Border

Israel began scaling back its forces in the southern Lebanon security zone as calm returned to the northern border after a hail of Katyusha rocket attacks last week.

Israelis on the northern border enjoyed a quiet weekend with both Jerusalem and pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon apparently intent on reducing tensions.

Analysts said the exchanges last week could be viewed as an attempt by both Israel and Hezbollah to test the tacit rules of the game, under which both sides agree to limit actions to the 9-mile-deep Israeli-controlled buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

At week’s end, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Hezbollah rocket attacks against Kiryat Shmona and other Israeli towns last week were in retaliation for Israeli air strikes at their bases, rather than a planned attack against Israeli civilians. Rabin also holds the defense portfolio.

On a visit Friday to the Northern Command of the Israel Defense Force, he said Israel would continue to contend militarily with Hezbollah, a group equipped and financed by the Iranians and operating in Syrian-controlled territory.

But he told reporters that the Katyusha rocket attacks came in response to the Nov. 8 Israeli bombing of Hezbollah bases in the Bekaa Valley and other sites north of the security zone.

A similar perspective was put forward by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper. He said he opposed in principle the firing of Katyusha rockets at “enemy positions.

“But when the Israelis launch major operations against our holy fighters, using warplanes and artillery fire, targeting population centers, we cannot but use all the weapons we have to confront this aggression,” Nasrallah said.

In the past, Hezbollah has claimed that its main objective is not against Israel as such but the expulsion of Israeli forces from the security zone and a halt to its support for the South Lebanon Army, which is regarded in Lebanon as an Israeli puppet.

Fire was directed at SLA forces on Friday but caused no casualties.

A Druse soldier killed in a Hezbollah ambush of an Israeli patrol in the security zone last Thursday was buried the following day in his home village of Beit Jann, in northern Galilee. Sgt. Ali Fares Kais was the 45th Beit Jann villager to be killed in the service of the Israel Defense Force.

Two other soldiers wounded in the attack were reported to be recovering satisfactorily.

Hezbollah launched two attacks on Friday against SLA forces inside the zone, without casualties.

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