Prime Minister Blames Syria for Ongoing Clashes in Lebanon

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin last week visited the security zone in southern Lebanon, where the Israel Defense Force and the allied South Lebanon Army have been engaged in ongoing clashes with the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement.

Rabin said at a news conference that Syria is using Hezbollah to put pressure on the IDF and SLA.

Israeli officials have frequently said that Syria could restrain the Iranian- backed group’s activities if it wanted to, but that Damascus was trying to use the clashes in southern Lebanon as a playing card in negotiations with Israel.

There were clashes in the security zone almost every day this last week.

On Jan. 11 an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded and four Hezbollah gunmen were killed during fighting in the western sector of the zone.

The day before, Israeli planes bombed Hezbola targets in the security zone after Hezbollah gunmen fired on positions held by Israel and the SLA in the eastern sector of the zone.

During his visit to southern Lebanon on Jan. 12, Rabin said that Israel and Syria had made some progress in their recent talks in Washington, but that the fighting in Lebanon had not come up in their discussions.

“In meetings between the military heads of the two armed forces of Syria and Israel, we dealt only with questions of security arrangements once the peace agreement is signed. The issue of Lebanon and Hezbollah was not brought up in meetings held so far,” Rabin said.

But the same day in Damascus, Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said that last month’s high-level talks involving Israeli and Syrian diplomatic and military officials in Washington had produced no results.

Sharaa added that he did not expect the talks to resume soon. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, refused to comment on rumors that he met secretly with a Syrian official while he was in Paris last week.

Media reports speculated that the official could have been Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Mustafa Tallas.

Peres, arriving in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on Jan. 12, declined to comment.

But the foreign minister blames Syria for the ongoing stalemate in the Washington talks.

He said the Syrian demand that Israel make a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and dismantle all its settlements there before starting negotiations was unacceptable.

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