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Tensions Ease in Southern Lebanon As Hope Rises for Israel-syria Talks

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Despite sporadic exchanges of artillery fire in southern Lebanon over the weekend, tensions in the area have declined since Israel’s devastating air attack on a Hezbollah base in eastern Lebanon earlier this month.

The June 2 attack in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which left an estimated 50 members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement dead and about 100 more wounded, struck at the heart of the Syrian-controlled area of Lebanon.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur, the attack was meant to indicate to the Syrians that Israel was on constant alert and would never again be caught napping as it was at the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Despite earlier fears to the contrary, the attack appears not to have upset chances of progress in the long-stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.

Recent pessimism regarding the Israeli-Syrian track gave way this week to renewed expectations that U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher will undertake another round of Jerusalem-Damascus shuttle diplomacy before the end of the month.

Following two visits to the region last month, Christopher had expressed doubts that he would return soon to the Israeli and Syrian capitals.

Observers on all sides are unanimous that the Lebanese situation will never be entirely resolved until Israel and Syria reach a peace accord.

Indeed, Israeli-Lebanese bilateral talks, held fitfully since the start of the 1991 Madrid Conference — which established the framework for negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors — have progressed only insofar as the Israeli-Syrian track has moved forward.

In recent months, both tracks have effectively ground to a halt.

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