Israel-Lebanon Border Fight Erupts

KHIAM, Lebanon (AP) - Defying calls for restraint, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon fired more than two dozen rockets and mortars Wednesday on Israeli outposts in one of the biggest cross-border attacks in two years. In retaliation, Israeli warplanes repeatedly raided suspected guerrilla positions.
At least one Israeli soldier at a border post was wounded in the barrage, Israel said. Two Israeli posts could be seen taking direct hits from rockets and mortars, including a strike that sent flames and smoke from a radar monitoring station on Mt. Hermon in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
The exchange was the latest in a series of attacks along the tense border that have coincided with Israel's offensive against Palestinian militias in the West Bank. Israel and the United States have accused guerrillas of trying to open up a new front in the conflict.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that Syrian and Lebanese leaders had assured him they would try to curb guerrilla attacks on Israel from Lebanon. "They will do everything they can," Annan said he was told. Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon and a supporter of Hezbollah.
Annan spoke in Spain, where he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell on efforts to end the violence in the Mideast. A senior U.S. official said Israel was being urged to act with restraint in response to Hezbollah attacks.
Israel said that in Wednesday's attacks, rockets were fired into the Golan Heights and northern Israel. Hezbollah said its fighters attacked six Israeli outposts in Chebaa Farms, a disputed patch of land along the border adjacent to the Golan. It was one of the heaviest assaults since Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000.
In one attack, Hezbollah said its guerrillas destroyed Israeli fortifications and a Merkava tank at the Roueissat al-Alam post in Chebaa Farms. Fighters advanced and raised a Hezbollah flag on the stricken position, the guerrilla group said in a statement from Beirut.
The Israeli military denied a tank was damaged. Israeli military sources said the guerrillas tried to seize an Israeli position under cover of rockets and light arms fire but were repulsed. During the attempt they raised flags a distance from the post.
Israeli artillery responded with shelling, and warplanes struck positions near Lebanese villages near Chebaa Farms and in the Bekaa Valley about 13 miles north of the border.
The fighting trapped about 90 Lebanese students in a school in Kfar Chouba, a village near the Chebaa Farms, said a teacher at the school. They later managed to reach their homes, where families huddled as the thud of explosions echoed in the nearby hills.
Seven Israeli soldiers were wounded in the last few days in the Chebaa Farms, a region of uninhabited farmland on the foothills of Mt. Hermon that Lebanon, backed by Syria, claims as its own. Israel captured the territory when its forces swept across Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations says the Chebaa Farms region is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.
Besides the fighting around Chebaa Farms, the entire length of the Lebanese-Israeli border has been seething with tension since Israel's West Bank incursions began March 29.
Rockets and machine gun fire from Lebanon have targeted several Israeli border areas, but there were no injuries. Early Wednesday, four Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon hit the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shemona, the Israeli military said. No one was hurt.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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