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Shells and tennis on a truce line

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A dog swims across the Jordan River and scrambles onto the far bank. It is quiet enough to hear him shake the water off before he trots downstream to join some kibbutz youngsters in an orchard.

The only other sounds are those of sprinklers in a cotton field and a tennis ball being hit somewhere nearby.

In the last hour of daylight, the upper Galilee seems at peace -- a magnificent valley carpeted with picture-book fields.

But for nine days a 50-mile swath of Israel's northern border from here to the coastal resort of Nahariya was given a nightly pummeling by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rockets and shells. And the nine-day exchange, which ended with the July 24 cease-fire, was a landmark in the long-running battle between Israel and the PLO.

For the first time the Palestinians had stood up alone against the ISraeli military, albeit at artillery range. Employing long-range 130-mm artillery and multiple-barrel Katyushas firing 40 rockets simultaneously, the Palestinians significantly altered the strategic situation in Israel's north.

Along the border region life virtually came to a halt. Much of the population of Nahariya (35,000) and Qiryat Shemona (15,000) moved out for the duration to family or friends deeper inside the country. Factories, some of them with hundreds of employees, ceased operation.

Agricultural settlements suffered extensive losses from direct hits on orchards and were unable to pick crops. The entire population in the area descended into the ground every evening to spend the nights in uncomfortable shelters.

Unlike previous "terrorist" incursions, which were painful but of no strategic significance, the use of these heavy weapons from across the border effectively held the country's entire northern tier hostage to Palestinian intentions.


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