JERUSALEM, Feb. 8 (JTA) Residents of northern Israel headed for shelters after officials declared a formal state of emergency in the region.
Israeli officials made the announcement Tuesday amid indications that the fighting in Lebanon was about to escalate.
It is believed that Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday asked for Cabinet endorsement for a series of attacks more severe than those the night before. Israeli jets launched airstrikes Monday on Hezbollah targets and on three power stations in Lebanon, one of them near Beirut.
Unusual in such cases, word of Barak’s telephone poll of Cabinet ministers was leaked to the media as it was taking place.
This was believed to be a deliberate move to forewarn Lebanon that further retribution was imminent.
The state of emergency means that all residents of northern Israel must enter and stay in their air raid shelters until ordered otherwise by the military.
The move came after an Israeli soldier was killed Tuesday by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile in southern Lebanon.
The incident raised to six the number of Israeli fatalities in the region during the past two weeks.
The period has been marked by a cycle of reprisals and counter- reprisals that have made it increasingly difficult for Israel to resume talks with Syria, which is widely believed to have given Hezbollah the go-ahead to launch attacks on Israeli targets.
The IDF spokesman said the missile that killed the Israeli soldier Tuesday was fired from inside the Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh. He called it an infringement of an April 1996 cease-fire agreement that called on Israel and Hezbollah not to launch attacks on or from civilian areas.
Military observers said Tuesday’s missile firing, and other Hezbollah operations Tuesday, seemed to indicate that the Shi’ite gunmen and, more significantly, the Syrians who control them had not heeded the message implied in Israel’s air attacks Monday night.
Those attacks left much of the Lebanese cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Baalbek without power.
Lebanese ministers assessed the damage at $200 million which Israeli sources said was exaggerated and said it would take a year to repair.
Israeli ministers and army commanders said Monday’s airstrikes were aimed at curbing Hezbollah’s recently intensified operations.
Israeli sources indicated that the Cabinet on Monday had approved a series of graduated punitive measures against targets in Lebanon, to be implemented as required. While Israel is facing considerable criticism from Arab states, particularly Syria, for Monday’s airstrikes, Israeli sources claim that U.S. officials hinted ahead of time that they would turn a blind eye to a measured Israeli action.