Hizbollah Retaliates for Israeli Attack with 'Heavy' Counter-Strike
The Lebanese Hizbollah movement on Sunday launched a heavy counterattack on Israeli posts in the occupied Shabaa Farms with mortars and anti-tank missiles, reported Radio Israel.
The attack came only an hour after Israeli warplanes bombed a Syrian radar station in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, wounding two Syrian soldiers and a Lebanese conscript, according to the official Syrian news agency (SANA). Earlier reports said three Syrian troops were injured in the raid.
The agency also defended the Hizbollah group's bombardment of Israeli forces in the occupied Shabaa Farms territory in response to the raids.
"The Lebanese resistance riposted against this new attack and this flagrant violation of airspace and Lebanese territory at 1:05 p.m. (1005 GMT) by bombarding the Israeli positions in the Lebanese sector of the Shabaa Farms," SANA said, cited by AFP.
"The Lebanese resistance warned the Israeli enemy against an escalation of aggression, and underlined its determination to defend the dignity of its people and the Arab nation whatever the sacrifices," SANA said.
AFP quoted Lebanese police as saying that Hizbollah launched a heavy counter-strike, firing some 80 mortar bombs and rockets and also destroying an Israeli radar facility.
Israel responded with tank and artillery fire.
No injuries have so far been reported on the Israeli side.
Two Israeli missiles destroyed the Syrian facility near Rayak, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Beirut, the police said, adding that the Lebanese conscript wounded was on duty nearby.
A statement by the Israeli cabinet confirmed their forces' attack, saying the raid came in retaliation for a Friday Hizbollah attack on an Israeli post in the occupied Shabaa Farms, where two soldiers were injured.
"We cannot let Hizbollah attack without reacting," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Filosoff confirmed on public radio, according to the agency.
"Syria continues to encourage terrorism against Israel," an Israeli army spokesman said.
"Israel will not tolerate attacks from Hizbollah, which is sponsored by Syria, and will use all the means at its disposal to assure the security of its residents along the northern border," the spokesman said.
But Hizbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who was holding a meeting in the Bekaa region at the moment of the Israeli raid, was quoted by AFP as saying that "Israel is playing with fire. We will not stand idly by and will react in an appropriate manner."
Israeli warplanes previously hit a Syrian radar station in the Bekaa on April 16 after a similar Hizbollah strike, killing a Syrian soldier.
EGYPT CONDEMNS ATTACK AS UNJUSTIFIED
Egypt on Sunday condemned the Israeli air raid, branding it an unjustifiable and badly timed escalation of the regional situation, reported AFP.
"This is a bad act and Egypt condemns it," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters.
"It's an unjustifiable Israeli escalation that comes at a moment when contacts are underway to calm the situation in the Middle East region" and resume peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.
"This Israeli behavior does not conform with a desire to move towards" a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Maher said, urging the international community to join him in condemning the strike.
ATTACK CAME DESPITE SYRIAN, LEBANESE WARNING
The raid came one day after Syria and Lebanon said they would hold Israel responsible "for any new aggression," the day after the Jewish state responded to a Hizbollah attack on the Shabaa Farms with airstrikes on south Lebanon and verbal warnings.
"Lebanon and Syria reject the Israeli threats and put the responsibility for any new aggression and what could follow in the region on Israel," the Lebanese and Syrian foreign ministries said in a statement, cited by AFP.
It was the first joint statement by Syria and Lebanon against Israel.
The statement was released following telephone contacts between Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al Shara and his Lebanese counterpart, Mahmoud Hammud.
It is addressed to the United Nations Security Council and its permanent members in particular, said AFP.
In their statement, Lebanon and Syria "draw the attention of the international community to the seriousness of these (Israeli) threats to the region, where the situation has already deteriorated, as well to security and international peace.
"Before and after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Lebanon underlined its right, recognized by international law, to free its land by all legal means," the statement says.
Beirut and Damascus also maintained that "defensive weapons used by the (Hizbollah) resistance cannot be compared to arms of mass destruction held up by Israel to threaten Lebanon and Syria.
"The weapons of the resistance cannot be compared to planes which violate Lebanese airspace, and to the tanks and artillery pieces which kill innocent people and destroy homes," they added.
Avi Pazner, diplomatic advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also held Syria responsible for the attack carried out Friday by Hizbollah against the Shabaa Farms, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967, and which are claimed by Lebanon.
"Syria bears the responsibility for this attack and will face the consequences, as it gives instructions to the Hizbollah, and is the conduit for arms supplied by Iran," he told AFP.
Israel responded immediately to the attack by shelling Hizbollah targets near the border with airplanes, helicopters and tanks. No injuries were reported, though 11 houses and one vehicle were said to have been damaged. Israel also sent warnings to Syria via diplomatic channels, while sources said that a more extensive military response to the attack was also a possibility.
The wounds of one of the Israeli soldiers, Marsello Shetchman, were initially classified as moderate after he was hit in the head by shrapnel, said Haaretz, adding that the other soldier was hurt by flying shrapnel and treated at the scene.
According to the paper, Israeli military sources said that the attack was launched two to three kilometers from the new international border between Israel and Lebanon.
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met with Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and other senior Israeli officials.
Defense establishment sources said that “an all-out military strike could not be ruled out, though as of Saturday night, Israel had refrained from such a response.”
Hizbollah has signaled its intention to continue attacks on the Shabaa Farms so long as the area is not handed over to Lebanon, despite appeals for restraint from the international community – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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