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Violence Along Border with Lebanon Halted As Two Sides See Little Gain

February 24, 1992
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A week of violence along Israel’s border with Lebanon has ended for the moment, apparently because both sides believe little can be gained by escalating tensions further.

After six days of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, an uneasy truce emerged over the weekend.

No Katyusha rockets fell in Upper Galilee and there were no punishing artillery barrages from the Israel Defense Force and its allied South Lebanon Army.

But the IDF remains on high alert, and some nervous residents of Galilee are still spending nights in bomb shelters.

A decision to back off from further confrontation with Israel was reportedly reached at a weekend meeting Syrian and Lebanese army officers had with representatives of the fundamentalist Hezbollah and its mainstream Shi’ite counterpart, the Amal militia.

Amal, headed by Nabih Berri, agreed last week to establish a common front with its Iranian-backed rival against the Israelis.

But the prevailing view here is that Hezbollah is obeying orders from its real bosses, Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Syrian President Hafez Assad.

They, in turn, may he heeding the wishes of Washington, where U.S.-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace talks resume Monday. Syria and Lebanon will be attending those talks.

Iran and Syria are said to be eager to prove to the United States that they are indispensable factors in the Middle East equation.

The Iranian and Syrian presidents are also said to have agreed by telephone that the deteriorating situation in southern Lebanon was “giving Israel a pretext to act there as it pleased.”


In addition, Hezbollah faced pressure from the local Shi’ite population in southern Lebanon. Thousands of villagers forced to flee their homes under IDF and SLA shelling realized they were paying a higher price for the Katyusha rocket assaults than their intended targets, the Israelis in Upper Galilee.

Such considerations seemed to bear out Israeli military sources, who credited the IDF’s tactics with silencing the Katyusha batteries.

But Israel itself is under constraints, as well. In the middle of peace talks and with a tough election campaign about to start, the Likud government cannot afford to launch an all-out assault on guerrilla bases in Lebanon the way Menachem Begin’s government did 10 years ago.

That would not only stir a serious internal debate but would inevitably widen Israel’s troubling rift with Washington.

Such considerations were reflected in remarks over the weekend by the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak. He said the army would not repeat the large-scale operation it carried out in southern Lebanon last week but would instead resort if necessary to a combination of countermeasures against Katyusha rocket attacks.

That was something of a retreat from Israel’s more aggressive stance last week.

Last week’s hostilities, in fact, began with the IDF’s carefully executed assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi on Feb. 16, an act for which Israel promptly took responsibility and justified by publishing a long list of Hezbollah terrorist acts and atrocities.


According to a senior Hezbollah cleric, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the Katyusha attacks on Galilee that began almost immediately afterward were not an ordinary Hezbollah tactic but intended to avenge Musawi’s death.

Each side has been bloodied, and both are now claiming victory.

The IDF’s relentless artillery pounding of Hezbollah bases and its tank and helicopter-supported incursion into southern Lebanon beyond the security zone last week undoubtedly hurt the guerrillas badly.

Hezbollah claims victory on the basis of the IDF’s swift withdrawal from the southern Lebanese villages of Yatar and Kafra, which it occupied briefly on Wednesday.

The IDF lost two men in the raid on Kafra. Capt. Eran Alkawi, 24, of Rishon le-Zion and Sgt. Ram Inbar, 22, a combat engineer from Nahal Oz were buried in their hometowns Friday.

A civilian casualty was 5-year-old Avia Elizada, killed by fragments of a Katyusha rocket that exploded Friday outside her home at Moshav Granot in western Galilee.

But IDF sources now say that the Katyusha rocket that killed her as she ran to greet her father was fired by Palestinian terrorists, not Hezbollah fighters.

They blame the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was not bound by any understanding reached with the Shi’ites in southern Lebanon.

In fact, the historic hostility between the Lebanese Shi’ites and Palestinians is exceeded only by their common animosity toward Israel.

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was intended to destroy Palestinian terrorist bases. The Jewish state had no quarrel at the time with the 1.5 million Shi’ites who comprise about half of Lebanon’s population.

In fact, the invading Israeli troops were cheered in many Shi’ite towns. It was only after the IDF ensconced itself in Lebanon that fanatical Islamic organizations such as Hezbollah emerged and began harassing the IDF.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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