Mideast violence on the rise. Mubarak urges US to push for talks as attacks escalate between Israel and Shiites, Iran and Iraq
Restarting the Middle East peace process seemed like a faraway dream in this troubled region Monday where violence has escalated between Israel and the Lebanese and between Iraq and Iran. As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urged American officials in Washington to push for new peace negotiations, Israel buried 12 more of its soldiers who were killed Sunday during a suicide car-bombing in south Lebanon.
The Israelis lost no time in retaliating for the Sunday raid, which occurred just about a mile north of the border between Israel and Lebanon. Monday morning Israeli troops raided the Shiite village of Azariya, just outside the newly drawn Israeli lines in the south. The Israeli Army spokesman reported that 24 villagers, whom he identified as ``terrorists,'' were killed and many more were captured.
As the cycle of violence between Israel and Lebanese Shiites shortened, Iran reported that it had bombed Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. The Iranians claimed to have also struck at two northern Iraqi cities in retaliation for Iraqi strikes against Iranian towns.
The five-year-old Gulf war has taken a heavy toll in recent days as attacks and counterattacks mounted. United Nations efforts to halt the shelling of civilians initially were rebuffed but on Monday night suddenly appeared to make some progress. Iran said it agreed to halt the attacks. Iraq also indicated a willingness to halt the attacks. But the flareup between the two nations emphasized the warnings of moderate Arab leaders that Mideast stalemate is dangerous.
Jordan's King Hussein had warned after a summit meeting with Mubarak last week that the ``window of opportunity'' for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East was small, and joined with Mubarak in publicly calling for the United States to play a more active role.
But the Americans seemed to be determined to wait for more solid progress thanthe ambiguous joint-negotiating agreement between Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat before launching any new diplomatic effort.
Indeed, the only reports of US moves in the region were from Cyprus, where reliable sources said that as many as eight US warships were 200 miles west of the island, sailing toward it. The Pentagon earlier had confirmed that two warships left Mallorca, Spain three days before they were originally scheduled to leave last week. The ships are now conducting operations in the eastern Mediterranean. Diplomatic sources in the region say the ships were dispatched in response to threats against US personnel in Lebanon made by Muslim extremists.
The deepening hostility of the Shiites has frightened both the Americans and the Israelis. A growing number of Israeli politicians and military analysts now believe that this country's war with the Shiites will not end when Israel completes its withdrawal.
Three Muslim organizations claimed responsibility for Sunday's car-bombing of a military convoy. The convoy had been passing through a predominantly Christian area Israel has planned to turn into a buffer zone after the withdrawal. One group said the attack was in retaliation for a car-bombing in a Beirut Shiite neighborhood Friday.
Shiite willingness to die in attacks on Israelis ``bears within it a terrible danger for the peace of the world. The new terrorist dimension, which stems from religious zealotry, is an ominous portent,'' said Israeli President Chaim Herzog, in an address to the nation Monday.
Several Israeli politicians demanded that the government scrap its three-stage withdrawal plan in favor of an immediate, complete pullout. But it seems unlikely the government will alter its schedule.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressed horror at Sunday's attack, which claimed more casualties than any single attack on Israeli troops in the south in the past year. But Mr. Peres said that ``terror will not dictate the defense policy of Israel.'' He also warned that ``no political considerations'' would keep Israel from ``mobilizing all the resources at our disposal to fight terror and defend the north and our soldiers.''
Monday's raid was probably only a prelude to an even tougher crackdown on the Shiite villages in the south. The Israeli Army spokesman said that Lebanese Army troops intervened when the Israelis entered Azariya, and the two forces clashed. Ten Lebanese soldiers were reportedly captured. It was the fourth time that the Lebanese Army, which deployed in the area evacuated by Israel last month, has clashed with Israeli troops.
In Jerusalem, six members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, put forward motions calling for the Army's immediate withdrawal from south Lebanon. The Cabinet in January approved a three-stage withdrawal that should be completed no later than next September.
However, some Defense Ministry officials reportedly have advocated a ``scorched earth'' policy in the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) strip just above the Israeli border. The plan would be to forcibly evacuate Lebanese living in the area. They argue that to hasten the withdrawal would only fuel the fire of Shiite hatred for Israel, and encourage attackers to pursue the Army across the border.
A spokesman for the prime minister's office said Monday that no such option has been aired in the Cabinet.