Israel Hits Lebanon - Risks
Of Wider Conflict Mount

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israeli jets and artillery hit targets across south Lebanon on Saturday in retaliation for the most extensive guerrilla attacks on the Jewish state's armed forces since they withdrew from the area two years ago.
The clashes, which have expanded beyond the foothills of the Golan Heights, could mark a change in the low intensity conflict between Israel on one side, and Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas and their Syrian backer on the other.
Just before the clashes erupted, Syrian troops in Lebanon pulled out from positions nearest to the Israeli border, continuing a redeployment apparently designed to limit the impact of any Israeli attacks.
Lebanese and Israeli security officials said Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds fired from Lebanon hit Israeli military positions in Israel proper and in the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday.
Israeli security officials accused Hizbollah of launching the attacks, but a Hizbollah official denied the claim, saying the party's attacks on Saturday were limited to Israeli troops occupying Shebaa Farms in the foothills of the Golan.
Israel Radio said two children were hurt when salvoes hit Ghajar, a village on the Golan southwest of Shebaa Farms that Israel occupied in 1967.
Israel retaliated with heavy shelling of the Wazzani river basin facing Ghajar. There were no reports of casualties.
Israeli jets struck the edges of Lebanese villages facing Shebaa, including a road linking the villages. Israeli guns also pounded the area.
Lebanon has blamed exiled Palestinian groups for firing rockets at Israeli targets in the last few days. U.N. peacekeepers said they had found two Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel in the village of Kawzah hours before the attacks.
Hizbollah fighters, who are backed by Syria and Iran, have stepped up a campaign to drive Israeli troops from the foothills of the Golan Heights in response to Israel's military invasion of Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
A Reuters correspondent said Syrian soldiers pulled out from their position on the Awali River at the entrance to the port city of Sidon, 25 miles west of Shebaa Farms.
Trucks carrying soldiers and their gear were seen heading from al-Awali toward the Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria and contains the bulk of its 20,000-strong garrison in Lebanon.
The Syrian army, which first intervened in Lebanon in 1976 to support Christian militiamen in their conflict with Lebanon's leftists and Muslims, backs up the political clout Damascus still wields over Lebanese affairs.
On Wednesday Syria began evacuating mostly exposed positions in Mount Lebanon after Israel warned the governments of Lebanon and Syria to stop Hizbollah attacks on Shebaa.
Hizbollah drove Israel from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year-long occupation. Its fighters have since kept up attacks on Israeli troops in Shebaa Farms.
Israeli jets raided Syrian targets in Lebanon twice in 2001 after Hizbollah attacks in the Shebaa Farms area.
Israel captured Shebaa Farms from Syria in 1967 along with the rest of the Golan Heights. The United Nations says Shebaa is Syrian land and does not recognize Lebanon's claim to it.

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