Israel and Hizbullah Trade Artillery Fire In Retaliatory Attacks
KIRYAT SHMONA, ISRAEL
ROCKETS hit this northern border town yesterday for the first time in nearly a decade, as Lebanese Islamic fundamentalist gunners sought vengeance for the death of their leader.
Three Katyusha rockets fell inside the town just after dawn, according to Mayor Prosper Azran, but did no damage. Israeli artillery continued to target pro-Iranian Hizbullah positions in southern Lebanon throughout the morning.
"Twenty or 30 Katyusha rockets have landed in the last few hours [in the Israeli-controlled security zone of southern Lebanon], and this hasn't happened for a very long time," Israeli Army Chief of Staff Ehud Barak said here yesterday morning. The shelling could lead to an "escalation" of violence along the Lebanese border, he warned, unless the Syrian and Lebanese governments put a stop to it.
The first attack on Kiryat Shmona since Israel's invasion of Lebanon came in response to the death of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Abbas Musawi on Sunday, in an Israeli helicopter attack on his convoy in southern Lebanon.
At a military airport beneath the snowy peak of Mount Hermon, Israeli troops in battle gear piled into transport helicopters yesterday morning, bound for the security zone.
As the helicopters clattered north, Israeli and Hizbullah gunners continued their artillery duel that began Sunday evening.
The new spate of violence erupted early on Saturday morning, when presumed Palestinian guerrillas crept into a lightly guarded Israeli military camp and killed three conscripts with knives, axes, and a pitchfork.
Though Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens blamed the militant Black Panther faction linked with Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization for the attack, Israel retaliated by killing Hizbullah's Sheikh Musawi as he returned from a rally in South Lebanon. His wife, infant son, and eight companions also died in the assault.
"We are determined to defend our borders and to fight the terrorists of whatever sort," General Barak said here yesterday, as he visited troops departing for South Lebanon. "We will respond" to any future Hizbullah shelling, he warned. "And when we respond there will be a certain risk of escalation."
By replying to United States calls for all sides to show "restraint," Barak insisted that "the only way to impose restraint on Hizbullah is by Syrian pressure or an Israeli military response." Unless the shelling stopped, he said, "the price on the other side might be very costly."
Six rockets fell inside Israel in three towns, military officials here said. The 122 mm rockets, with a range of 20 kilometers, were fired from well within Lebanese territory, Barak said.
"It was scary," said Iris Bouskila, a Kiryat Shmona hotel receptionist, who heard two rockets fall near her home early yesterday morning. "It's been a long time since I heard a noise like that - not since the 1982 war."
Michael Ohayon, an unemployed teacher, said he was getting his children ready for school just before 7 a.m. when he heard an explosion a couple of hundred yards behind his house.
"We hope this won't be like 1981," said Mr. Ohayon, whose home was hit by a rocket launched from southern Lebanon before Israel's 1982 invasion, dubbed Peace for Galilee. "I hope that today was only a response to what we did to them yesterday," he added. "If not, we have to go into Lebanon and clean it out."
Though children were initially ordered not to go to school, life had returned to normal by lunch time in this town of 18,000 people, including about 2,000 new former Soviet immigrants.
Meanwhile, the search continued for the perpetrators of Saturday morning's attack on an Israeli military training camp, which senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Bassam Abu Sharif said was the work of PLO guerrillas.
Not only the brutality of the operation has shocked Israel. The Army is also facing embarrassing questions about how a handful of raw recruits could have been left vulnerable to such an attack.