Israel faces crisis in Lebanon, decaying ties with Palestinians

JERUSALEM, Aug. 21 (JTA) — Appealing for calm in southern Lebanon, Israeli leaders have sent a message to Syria via American intermediaries calling on Damascus to control Hezbollah. And while confronting the situation in the north, Israeli officials also contended with a two-day unity conference that brought Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat together with leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements. Also on the Israeli-Palestinian track, further signs of an eroding peace process became evident Thursday, when the Palestinians began imposing a boycott on Israeli goods. In southern Lebanon, a Lebanese civilian was killed Thursday in the Christian enclave of Jezzine after the truck he was driving detonated a roadside charge. Reports from Lebanon said Hezbollah positions came under fire following the explosion. The attack came a day after Israeli planes struck Hezbollah and other targets in Lebanon, in what was termed by Israeli officials as a “warning signal” to the Lebanese government to rein in the pro-Iranian group. Thursday’s explosion was the latest in a cycle of hostilities this week which quickly escalated following the killing of two children of a South Lebanon Army commander in Jezzine. The SLA, in turn, shelled the port city of Sidon, killing seven people. Hezbollah then fired dozens of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. Three Israelis were wounded. Lebanese army troops also reportedly cooperated with Hezbollah in shelling SLA positions in South Lebanon. Discussing the week’s escalation in Lebanon, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai rejected calls from hawkish members of the government for a more aggressive Israeli response to the Hezbollah attacks. “I’m am against acting in a brazen manner which will disrupt civilian life on both sides,” Mordechai said during a visit to the Druse village of Daliat al-Carmel. “I believe that civilians must be kept out of the circle of violence and that we must fight Hezbollah,” he added. “I don’t support any action that will destroy” the April 1996 cease-fire that ended Operation Grapes of Wrath, Israel’s cross-border action aimed at stopping Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israeli communities. The five-nation monitoring group that was created to monitor the cease-fire convened Thursday to discuss complaints filed by Israel and Lebanon over the week’s violence. The United States appealed to all the parties to “do their utmost to restore calm,” said State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin. In Jerusalem, the Cabinet was briefed by security officials on the situation in the north as well as in the territories. Parallel to the tensions in the north, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been involved in an ongoing battle this week over Israeli demands that the self-rule authority crack down on terrorism. Israeli officials this week accused Arafat of being “two-faced” for holding conciliatory talks with representatives from Islamic militants groups. “On the one hand he says he is against terrorism, and afterwards he runs to embrace the killers of women and children,” Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said. A photo of Arafat embracing Abdelaziz Rantissi, a leader of the Hamas movement, was featured in Israel newspapers and on the front page of Thursday’s edition of The New York Times. After meeting with militant leaders Wednesday in Gaza, Arafat held a second such meeting the next day in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Arafat said he was convening what he termed “national unity” talks in response to harsh Israeli policy adopted since a July 30 twin suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 14 Israelis. After the attack, Israel imposed a closure on the territories, began withholding tax revenues it owed the Palestinian Authority and demanded that Palestinian officials crack down on terrorism. A portion of the tax revenues — $12 million — was released earlier this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted Thursday as telling the Cabinet that the Palestinian leadership was still not doing enough to combat terrorism, adding that Israel could not ignore this and move forward with the peace process. In retaliation for the sanctions Israel imposed after the attack, the Palestinian Authority on Thursday began enforcing a partial boycott of Israeli goods. Trucks carrying goods such as cookies and toilet paper were turned away by Palestinian officials and security forces, and merchants were told they could not sell Israeli goods beyond what they had on their shelves.

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