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Tensions high in Lebanon after weekend of fighting

JERUSALEM, Aug. 24 (JTA) — The deteriorating situation in southern Lebanon was marked by fierce fighting over the weekend between Israeli forces and Hezbollah gunmen. The Israel Defense Force said at least two Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday when Israeli forces repelled an unsuccessful attempt to attack an Israeli army outpost close to the northern border. According to reports, the Israeli forces spotted the fighters as they tried to approach the outpost. The IDF troops gave chase and opened fire, killing the Hezbollah gunmen. There were no Israeli casualties. During the pursuit, Hezbollah directed mortar fire at the Israeli troops in an effort to give the retreating Hezbollah unit cover. Saturday’s fighting, the latest during a week of tit-for-tat escalations, reportedly took place after a Hezbollah rocket attack on an Israeli position in the southern Lebanon security zone. Although there was no fighting reported Sunday, Israeli military officials warned that Hezbollah might try to retaliate for the losses of the previous day with long-range fire at Israeli positions in the security zone and with possible rocket attacks on northern Israel. Last week, Hezbollah launched its heaviest Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel since April 1996, when a U.S.-brokered cease-fire brought an end to more than two weeks of cross-border fighting. No Israelis were killed in the Aug. 19 attack, which Hezbollah launched to avenge the shelling a day earlier of the Lebanese port city of Sidon by Israel’s ally, the South Lebanon Army. At least six people were reported killed in that attack. Meanwhile, the five-nation committee monitoring the cease-fire issued a statement regarding the SLA’s shelling of Sidon and the Hezbollah Katyusha attacks on northern Israel. The committee called on both Israel and Lebanon to work to prevent attacks on civilians. For the first time, the committee said it was essential for the Lebanese government to keep groups from carrying out attacks on Israel. While the committee did not accept Lebanon’s request to blame Israel for the SLA shelling of Sidon, it said the IDF must prevent the SLA from carrying out such attacks. In another development, Lebanon and the pro-Syrian Amal movement blamed Israel for a car bomb explosion Saturday in Beirut that killed an Amal official and a driver for a Lebanese government minister. Israeli security forces refused to comment on the explosion, saying only that it appeared to be connected to internal political disputes. The United States sent messages to Syria, Israel and Lebanon over the weekend requesting that the sides work to calm tensions in the region.