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Hezbollah kills Israeli soldier as fighting escalates in Lebanon

JERUSALEM, Aug. 12 (JTA) — Fighting in southern Lebanon is reaching its highest levels since an American-brokered cease-fire in April 1996 brought a temporary lull to tensions in the area. An Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Ronen Cohen, 20, was killed and another wounded Sunday after Hezbollah gunmen fired rockets and mortars on an Israeli patrol in the southern Lebanon security zone. Cohen was a member of the elite Golani Brigade. After the attack, Israel fired artillery at suspected Hezbollah positions in the area. Earlier, a Lebanese woman and several children were reportedly wounded by Katyusha rockets and shells that hit two villages. Lebanese authorities said that one of the villages, where an orphanage was hit, was near a position of the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army. Hezbollah, which regularly uses Katyushas, denied any involvement in the rocket attacks on the two villages. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army stationed 700 troops in the Bekaa Valley after a former Hezbollah leader called for civil disobedience. Syrian President Hafez Assad consented to the move. Hezbollah also accused groups backing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat of launching a Katyusha rocket attack last Friday on northern Israel. In that attack, rockets damaged a synagogue in the town of Kiryat Shmona shortly after Shabbat services ended. One Israeli woman was wounded. Hezbollah has been engaged in a war of words with the Palestinian Authority, which recently accused the Shi’ite movement of being behind a July 30 double suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. Hezbollah denied it was behind the attack, which killed 13 Israelis. In another weekend incident in southern Lebanon, two Israeli soldiers were injured by fire from their own unit Friday night. The two were leading their unit on a mission to set an ambush for Hezbollah fighters. They were caught in friendly fire after fellow soldiers spotted Hezbollah gunmen. In other fighting over the weekend, Israeli fighter planes rocketed suspected positions of Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Bekaa Valley, an area under Syrian control. One Hezbollah fighter was killed and three wounded in the raids, which also wounded one member of the Popular Front, according to sources in the Bekaa. Tensions in southern Lebanon escalated after Israeli commandos, in an Aug. 4 raid north of the security zone, killed five Hezbollah fighters, including two area commanders.