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Israel Says Attacks in Lebanon Should Not Affect Peace Process

Israel has launched a multipronged diplomatic effort to assure friend and foe alike that its stepped-up military activities in Lebanon will not imperil the Middle East peace process.

Despite concern that the Israeli air strikes in Lebanon that began Sunday might interfere with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s planned visit next week to the Middle East, the State Department said Monday in Washington that Christopher’s schedule had not been changed.

While the United States has called on all sides to show the maximum restraint in the Lebanon flare-up, the Clinton administration has not specifically asked Israel to halt the raids, according to Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich.

Speaking in Singapore, Christopher criticized the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah for trying to sabotage the peace process and urged a continuation of the peace negotiations.

“The only antidote, the only real answer to this kind of violence is to make progress in the peace process and to bring to that region the kind of tranquility and peace that has so long been missing,” Christopher said.

The secretary is scheduled to begin his tour in Cairo on July 30, aiming to close the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians on a proposed joint declaration of principles, and between Israelis and Syrians over land-for-peace negotiations on the Golan Heights.

After the air raids in Lebanon, Syria accused Israel of seeking to drag it into a confrontation and thereby undermine the peace process.

But the Israeli military intelligence commander, Brig. Gen. Uri Saguy, pointedly stated that Syria’s deployments in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley remained unchanged despite the deaths of several Syrian soldiers during the air attacks.

U.N. HOLDING CONSULTATIONS

Rabinovich said Monday that the Israel Defense Force action ought to prove conclusively to Syrians and others that Israel could not be “persuaded” to soften its negotiating stance in the peace talks by an upsurge of terrorism along its northern border.

If that was the Syrian thinking, then “Operation Accountability,” as the latest military action has been dubbed by Israel, should dispel those thoughts, Rabinovich said on Israel’s army radio.

Palestinian reaction to the attacks was negative but low-key considering the fact that the Israeli strikes were on Palestinian as well as Hezbollah targets.

Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, condemned the Israeli actions in Lebanon as a blow to the peace process.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, postponing a trip to France scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, told the international diplomatic corps that Israel had acted with notable restraint in Lebanon prior to this week’s fighting, despite repeated and costly provocations by Hezbollah.

Peres asked friendly governments to exert any influence they have with Syria and other parties to “bring an end to the attacks by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon against Israel.”

Peres insisted that Israel’s action is grounded in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — the article enshrining the principle of national self-defense.

At the United Nations, members of the Security Council scheduled informal consultations late Monday to discuss the situation in Lebanon.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Deborah Kalb in Washington and Larry Yudelson at the United Nations.)

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