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Israel Retaliates Striking a Syrian Radar Station
July 2, 2001
Israeli warplanes attacked a Syrian radar station in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley today, in retaliation for an attack by Islamic Hizbollah guerillas on Friday that seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. "This criminal activity by Hizbollah takes place under the authorization of Syria, whose army has a presence in Lebanon," the Israeli Cabinet said in a statement. The Bekaa Valley is dotted with Syrian radar, anti-aircraft and tank positions. Lebanese security officials said at least two Syrian soldiers were injured, when at least two Israeli missiles hit a Syrian position in the plain between the two main towns of Zahle and Baalbek. Hizbollah responded by firing mortars at Israeli positionsâ€”increasing the possibility of a dangerous escalation. In the Hizbollah attack Friday, anti-tank missiles were launched toward two Israeli army outposts in the disputed Chebaa Farms, at the edge of the Golan Heights. Lebanon still claims the area, despite UN endorsement of the Israeli withdrawal to the international border a year ago. Before the air strike today, Syria and Lebanon had warned Israel not to retaliate. "Israel will be held responsible for the consequences of any further retaliation on the entire region, world security and peace," said a joint press statement by the Syrian and Lebanese Foreign Ministers. The Israeli Cabinet statement accused Syria of facilitating the arming of Hizbollah, called on Lebanon to deploy its army along the border and on Syrian to honor UN resolutions calling on foreign troops to leave Lebanon. Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon with some 35,000 troops there.
Two Palestinian terrorists were killed in an overnight clash with Israeli troops in Samaria, obstructing efforts to establish a seven-day period of calmâ€”the first step toward implementing the US peace plan. Brigadier-General Benny Gansz said the Palestinians were planting two roadside bombs on a road near an army base, when they were detected by Israeli soldiers on patrol in the area. This was confirmed by Palestinian security officials who said the two planned to set off a roadside bomb as Jewish residents of the area passed by later in the day in a procession. The Palestinians said one of the two men was a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas and the other was a Palestinian police officer. Both were from the Jenin Refugee Camp. In another incident in Samaria, Palestinian gunmen shot and slightly wounded an Israeli-Arab truck driver who was delivering baked goods to Jewish communities. In southern Gaza, the Israeli army said Palestinian gunmen opened fire and lobbed five anti-tank grenades and 11 handgrenades at Israeli military positions near the Gaza-Egypt border overnight. No one was hurt.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the cabinet today that in light of the violence, the countdown toward implementing the US peace plan could not begin. The plan calls for a week of total calm, to be followed by a six-week cooling off period, then confidence building measures such as a freeze on construction in Jewish settlements, and finally (if it remains calm), a resumption of peace talks. Sharon said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was not taking the necessary steps to stop the violence. There was also controversy in the cabinet over Foreign Minister Shimon Peresâ€™ meeting with Arafat over the weekend on the sidelines of the Socialist International conference in Lisbon. Ultra-nationalist minister Rehavam Zeâ€™evi walked out of the meeting, after accusing Peres of cozying up to Arafat and clearing the way for the Palestinian leader to receive an invitation to the White House. Sharon refused to discuss the meeting, apparently wanting to avoid another tiff with Peres. The two clashed at a cabinet meeting two weeks ago, after Sharon vetoed a meeting among Peres, Arafat and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Peres, who is among the few Israelis who still regard Arafat as a peace partner, said the meeting was positive. "I think it was a good occasion to exchange views informally in a rather agreeable atmosphere," he said. "One of the...greatest problems we are facing is an emotional breakdown, the fact that the parties have lost confidence," Peres said. But Arafat sounded much less conciliatory when he returned to Gaza from Portugal. "Criminal activities still continue from the Israeli side, especially from the settlers protected by Israeli troops, as well as closure of our cities and villages," he said. Arafat told Peres that he was trying to halt the violence, but his task would be easier if Israel improved Palestinian living conditions by lifting the blockade of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Arafat and Peres also differed on whether the countdown for the seven day period of calm has begun. Arafat said it began on Friday, but Peres said the United States had agreed it was up to Israel to decide when things were calm enough to begin the countdown. "We are not trying to win points in a soccer game," Peres told Army Radio today. "We want to bring real calm on the ground."