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Tensions high in Lebanon as Israel hits Palestinians

JERUSALEM, Aug. 25 (JTA) — The hostilities in southern Lebanon broadened this week when Israeli fighter planes fired rockets at suspected positions of a rejectionist Palestinian group south of Beirut. The pilots reported hits during Monday’s raid and returned safely to base. Security sources in Lebanon said no injuries were caused in the attacks on positions of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command. The air strikes took place on targets some 10 miles south of the Lebanese capital. In a separate incident, a soldier with the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army was lightly wounded Monday when a bomb detonated near an SLA patrol in the southern Lebanon security zone. Hezbollah claimed responsibility. The latest incidents took place two days after fierce ground fighting was reported 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 its 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. Saturday’s fighting reportedly took place after a Hezbollah rocket attack on an Israeli position in the security zone. Although there was no fighting reported Sunday, Israeli military officials warned that Hezbollah might try to retaliate for its previous day’s losses 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 the SLA. At least six people were reported killed in that attack. Meanwhile, the five-nation committee monitoring last year’s cease-fire issued a statement regarding the SLA’s shelling of Sidon and the Hezbollah 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 refused 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. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said Monday that Israel hoped to resolve the conflict in Lebanon through political means. But he added that Israel would continue to take military action until an agreement was reached. “We want dialogue, we want a political answer to political issues. But as long as we don’t have it, we will fight in Lebanon to protect Israel’s northern settlements and the entire security of the state,” he told reporters. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently on a tour of the Far East, also commented on the situation in the north. He said he was encouraged by Syria’s efforts in recent days to calm the situation in Lebanon. Israel has appealed to Damascus via American intermediaries to rein in Hezbollah.