Israeli warplanes hit back for Hizbollah attack
( 2004-01-21 08:53) (Agencies)
Israeli warplanes struck two Hizbollah bases in Lebanon in retaliation for a border attack by the Lebanese guerrilla group that killed an Israeli soldier.
Hours before the warplanes went into action, Israel pointedly confirmed Hizbollah's contention that the army bulldozer it hit with an anti-tank missile on Monday, killing the soldier and wounding another, had crossed the border into Lebanon.
"We deviated (from standard procedure) by going into Lebanon," Brigadier-General Yair Golan told reporters. He said the bulldozer, clearing explosives placed by Hizbollah, was only several meters (yards) inside Lebanon.
"From (Hizbollah's) standpoint, (the attack on the bulldozer) is legitimate, although not from ours," he said.
A Lebanese army source said no casualties were reported in the two air strikes. Witnesses said the planes appeared to have targeted Hizbollah positions near Alman in south Lebanon and near Zibkin, east of the port city of Tyre.
ISRAEL BLAMES SYRIA
"The Israeli air force targeted two Hizbollah posts used to target northern Israel," said Major Sharon Feingold, an Israeli military spokeswoman. "The Hizbollah terrorist organization uses these posts...for its terrorist training and as weapons caches."
Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized Monday's Hizbollah attack and pointed a finger at Syria, which both Washington and Israel accuse of supporting the guerrillas.
"I think it's unfortunate that Hizbollah once again has caused this need for a response," Powell told reporters.
"I would hope the Syrians should once again understand that any support -- whether it is vocal support or allowing their leadership to stay in Damascus or whether it is serving as a transshipment point for weapons to Hizbollah -- is destabilizing in the region and is not in the interests of peace," he said.
Syria denies it controls Hizbollah, which has mounted occasional attacks against Israeli positions along the border since Israel ended a 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, once a stronghold of Palestinian guerrillas.
Hizbollah does not accept the U.N.'s determination that Israel's troop withdrawal in May 2000 was complete.
Hizbollah spokesman Sheikh Hassan Izzeddine said after the air strikes the "escalation will not change the steadfastness of the resistance in defending its people and country."
In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he wrote to Ariel Sharon last week pressing him to resume peace talks with Syria, but the Israeli prime minister had not yet replied.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called in December for renewed negotiations, but Sharon has been cool to the idea. The negotiations over the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, collapsed in 2000.
Sharon has long opposed quitting the strategic plateau Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. The Golan looms over the Sea of Galilee, Israel's biggest reservoir.
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