Israel accuses Syria of supporting attacks


JERUSALEM -- Israel accused Syria yesterday of supporting a new wave of guerrilla attacks on Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, and senior officials warned that they would not let the Middle East peace talks deter them from retaliating.

While the Israeli Cabinet was reported to have made no decision on military action at its weekly meeting yesterday, several ministers suggested that steps might be taken soon. News reports from Lebanon said that Israel had moved extra artillery into southern Lebanon and that guerrillas there loyal to the pro-Iranian Party of God, or Hezbollah, were bracing for bombardments.

"Anyone who thinks that we'll continue to put up with this quietly and say 'thank you' is simply wrong," said Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former general who is close to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "And anyone who thinks that there is some connection between this and the peace process is also wrong."

Although the border was quiet yesterday, Israelis were jolted by a string of attacks late last week that killed five soldiers and wounded eight others in what Israel calls its "security zone," which Israel established in 1985 in southern Lebanon to forestall attacks on its northern towns and settlements. Twelve Israeli soldiers have been killed in the area thus far this year, compared with 13 for all of last year.

The attacks were said to be the work of guerrillas that either have bases in Damascus or receive missiles and ammunition from Iran by way of Syria. Hezbollah, which is fiercely opposed to the peace talks and committed to pushing the Israelis out of southern Lebanon, has also stepped up rocket attacks on northern Israel.

"This is certainly a planned escalation," said Uri Lubrani, Israel's chief negotiator with Lebanon in the peace talks.

There was no Israeli threat to break off peace talks with Lebanon or Syria, which, like Israel, has expressed frustration over the recent lack of progress. By the same token, Israeli officials went out of their way to emphasize that they would not tie their generals' hands simply out of fear that retaliatory strikes might harm the very talks that the guerrillas hope to sabotage.

"The restraint and patience that we have manifested for many months now in the face of quite a number of provocations is reaching its limits," Mr. Lubrani said.

The Syrians had rejected Israel's accusations. Damascus radio said that the Israeli buffer zone in southern Lebanon was an "explosive trap" and that it was "the right of any people whose land is occupied to resist by refusing this occupation, destroying and eliminating it."

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