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Israel says its Lebanese ally responsible for shelling of Sidon

JERUSALEM, Aug. 18 (JTA) — Fighting in Israel’s last active war front has spilled over into the Lebanese city of Sidon, but Israel denied that it was involved in the deadly shelling of the port. At least six civilians, including a Syrian national, were killed Monday, and more than 40 were wounded in heavy artillery shelling of Sidon, according to news reports. Israeli officials quickly distanced themselves from the attack, saying it had been launched by members of its ally in the region, the South Lebanon Army. “Israel did not, I repeat, did not, fire on Sidon,” the Israel Defense Force’s chief spokesman, Brig. Gen. Oded Ben-Ami, told reporters Monday. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said the shelling contradicted standing Israeli policy. After the shelling of Sidon, Hezbollah forces fired Katyusha rockets at the southern Lebanese towns of Jezzine and Marjayoun. Some of the rockets were reported to have fallen close to IDF communications positions near Marjayoun, but there were no casualties. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon, Nabil Kawouk, threatened attacks against Israel in retaliation for the SLA shelling. “We must speak in the language that the Israeli enemy understands, and it is not possible to keep silent about what happened today,” he said. 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. A day later, Hezbollah fighters fired dozens of mortars and Katyusha rockets at Israeli army positions in the southern Lebanon security zone. On Aug. 8, Katyusha rockets damaged a synagogue in the town of Kiryat Shmona shortly after Shabbat services ended. One Israeli woman was wounded. And on Aug. 10, an Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Ronen Cohen, 20, was killed and another wounded after Hezbollah gunmen fired rockets and mortars on an Israeli patrol in the southern Lebanon security zone. Monday’s shelling reportedly caused the highest civilian toll in southern Lebanon since a U.S.-brokered cease-fire was established in April 1996 in an effort to protect civilians on both sides of the Israeli- Lebanese border. Israeli officials appealed Monday for all parties in Lebanon to adhere to the cease-fire understandings. At least eight shells landed in Sidon on Monday afternoon, according to residents and local security officials. The shelling damaged dozens of vehicles and brought down power lines, cutting off electricity to some 300,00 people in the area. The attack took place after a 12-year-old Lebanese girl and her teen- age brother were killed by a Hezbollah roadside bomb in the area of Jezzine. Reports from Lebanon said the two were believed to be the orphaned children of an SLA commander who was killed by a Hezbollah bomb four years ago.

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