Hizbullah fires anti-artillery shells into northern Israel

Special to World
Sunday, July 6, 2003

TEL AVIV Hizbullah has widened the scope of its attacks against Israel.

Hizbullah gunners have fired 357 mm anti-aircraft artillery from Lebanon toward a range of northern Israeli towns on Saturday. In all, 26 shells fell in communities and damaged homes and cars. Nobody was injured in the attack.

It was one of the largest Hizbullah attacks against Israel in a year and comes amid a declared ceasefire by Palestinian insurgency groups. Iran and Hizbullah have opposed the Palestinian ceasefire and are said to have financed new attacks.

Hizbullah has asserted that its anti-aircraft shelling is meant to stop Israeli warplanes from entering Lebanese air space. But Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash-Zeevi said Israeli aircraft had not entered Lebanese air space in more than 50 percent of reported incidents of Hizbullah artillery attacks.

"This seems to be the only way for Hizbullah to pursue its policy of holy war," Farkash-Zeevi told Israel state radio on Sunday.

The Hizbullah shelling comes amid what Western diplomatic sources said has been a drop in insurgency operations in the disputed Shebba plateau, along the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese border. Hizbullah officials have confirmed the reduction of attacks on Israeli positions in the plateau, but denied that this was the result of U.S. or Syrian pressure.

"Our resistance operations are carried out in light of specific policies and political considerations and have nothing to do with the situation in Iraq," Hizbullah politburo chief Ibrahim Amin Sayed said.

Israeli officials said Hizbullah also wants to be included in plans to release Palestinian prisoners held by the Jewish state. They said Israeli military intelligence have concluded that the bodies of three people found in the Bekaa Valley last week were not those of Israelis. Three Israeli soldiers have been missing since their tank unit was ambushed in the battle at Sultan Yaakoub in 1982.

On Sunday, Israel's Cabinet discussed the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as one of a series of gestures to bolster the government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Several Israeli ministers said they would oppose the release of prisoners who were convicted of killing Israelis.

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