Israeli fighter planes flew low over southern Lebanon this week as a general strike was observed throughout Lebanon to protest the Israeli presence in the country.
The planes drew anti-aircraft fire from Lebanese government troops and members of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Islamic fundamentalist movement. No hits were reported.
Tuesday’s general strike was called by the Lebanese government to mark the 17th anniversary of Israel’s first incursion into Lebanon.
The event was not marked in recent years, but the Lebanese government apparently wanted to underscore the continued Israeli presence in southern Lebanon while U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was visiting the region.
Lebanon’s prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, convened a special meeting of his Cabinet to underline Lebanon’s demand for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
Both the country’s Christian and Muslim populations, who were divided during Lebanon’s 15-year bloody civil war that ended in 1990, joined in the general strike.
Schools, banks, government offices and stores were shut across Lebanon. Beirut’s airport and seaport remained closed for two hours.
Hezbollah officials dismissed the strike as ineffectual, instead calling for armed resistance to the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon.
On March 14, 1978, Israeli troops went into southern Lebanon to drive out Palestinian guerrillas led by Yasser Arafat.
The U.N. Security Council ordered Israel to withdraw. A U.N. peacekeeping force was authorized to oversee the pullback, which occurred after three months.
Israeli troops returned to Lebanon in 1982 and eventually drove Arafat and his followers out of the country.
Most of the Israeli forces withdrew in 1985, but Israel established a 9-mile- wide buffer strip, known as the security zone, to protect northern Israel from repeated terrorist raids launched from Lebanon.
In Washington, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States, Raid Tababarah, told reporters that his country would only resume negotiations with Israel “if Israel declares its intention to withdraw” from the zone.
The Arab American Institute released a statement from five members of Congress, expressing support for Lebanon and saying they are looking forward to the time “when Lebanon regains full sovereignty over all of its land.”
The statement was singed by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and Reps. John Baldacci (D-Maine), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Pat Danner (D-Mo.).