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Archive for Monday, July 2, 2001

Violence flares on several fronts in Middle East

July 2, 2001

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— Israeli warplanes roared into neighboring Lebanon and struck a Syrian army anti-aircraft position Sunday, triggering an artillery and mortar duel with Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas along Israel's northern border and inflaming tensions throughout the Middle East.

Israel launched the raid in retaliation for an attack Friday by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic Party of God, that wounded two Israeli soldiers, one of them severely. The raid was the most serious cross-border incident since April and aggravated testy relations between Israel and Syria.

It erupted just 48 hours after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ended a peace mission here without apparent results. The United States called Sunday on all sides to exercise maximum restraint.

At least three soldiers two Syrians and one Lebanese were wounded in the Israeli air strike in the strategically important Bekaa Valley, where Syria has a large concentration of the more than 20,000 troops it keeps in Lebanon. Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon. Israel blames it for permitting attacks on Israeli troops in a disputed border enclave by Hezbollah, which is supported by both Syria and Iran.

The latest of those attacks took place Friday, when Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles and mortar shells at an Israeli army position in the 17-square mile territory known as the Shebaa Farms.

Israel struck back at midday Sunday, hitting the Syrian hilltop radar position, destroying two radar antennae and sending a ball of fire and plumes of acrid black smoke into the sky, according to Lebanese witnesses.

That led Hezbollah to launch mortars and rockets at Israeli posts in Shebaa Farms. Israel responded with tanks and artillery. The fighting went on for several hours.

Violence also continued Sunday between Israelis and Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In separate incidents, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who the army said were on their way to plant a bomb in the northern West Bank, and an Israeli truck driver was injured in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank. Elsewhere, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died of his injuries after having been shot Friday by Israeli troops in a clash in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians said he had been throwing stones at the soldiers.

"In reality this is not a cease-fire but rather a fire with recesses," said Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. "It looks like we have no one to talk peace to."

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