As Israel takes hard line on refugees in Lebanon, Clinton criticizes attacks


JERUSALEM -- The hundreds of thousands of refugees from Israeli shelling in southern Lebanon will not be allowed back to their homes until anti-Israeli guerrillas are quieted, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed yesterday.

He confirmed that the Israeli bombardment, now in its fifth day, is intended to create a wave of civilians fleeing north.

In Washington, the Clinton administration, in its first direct criticism of Israel, demanded that Israel halt the bombardment and denounced the policy of creating refugees.

Previously, the United States had singled out Hezbollah guerrillas and their sponsor state, Iran, for criticism, saying enemies of the Middle East peace process bore the blame for the violence.

Yesterday, the administration also said that Syria should be doing more to stop the fighting.

Israeli gunboats opened fire yesterday on the Lebanese port cities of Sidon and Tyre, adding to the mass exodus of civilians already estimated at between 200,000 and 335,000, according to reports from Lebanon.

"We have no intention of restraining ourselves," Mr. Rabin said in a tough speech to parliament. "There will be no compromises on the matter of security."

Israel began a steady pounding of some 70 Lebanese villages and towns Sunday in response to attacks on its soldiers in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon and to the firing of Katyusha rockets on settlements in northern Israel.

Israel's Hebrew name for its military campaign is variously translated "Operation Settle Accounts" or "Operation Accountability."

At least 88 Lebanese and three Israelis have been killed since the start of the campaign, the most intense since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, with Israel using ships, bombers, jet fighters, tanks, heavy artillery and missile-laden helicopters. Nearly 400 people on both sides also have been wounded.

Guerrillas of the Hezbollah (Party of God) have replied with mobile rocket fire. About 30 Katyusha rockets hit northern Israel again yesterday, but caused no injuries. Many of the 150,000 rTC residents of northern Israel have left their towns or remained in bomb shelters, according to Israeli authorities.

"Only if the fire against towns in the north stops, will you return to your homes," Mr. Rabin said, addressing Lebanese civilians in his speech to the Knesset. "Your government has the possibility, through the Lebanese army, to prevent Katyusha attacks against Israel."

Israel is hoping that a flood of refugees will encourage the Lebanese government to act against the Hezbollah on its own or ask for help from Syria, which is said to influence the radical group and which is a major power in Lebanese affairs.

There have been few protests in Israel against the strategic use of the civilian population. But those few were loud in the Knesset yesterday, as three members of the tiny Arab and Communist parties repeatedly interrupted Mr. Rabin.

Israel's military put more than 70 Lebanese towns and villages on notice and then began shelling to drive out the population.

Yesterday, it issued a similar warning to Tyre, Lebanon's fourth-largest city, with about 150,000 residents.

Israel announced a pause in the shelling to permit the exodus, and a U.N. spokesman said yesterday afternoon, "The city is mostly empty." Helicopters and artillery opened fire after the afternoon deadline.

Four Israeli gunships fired on Sidon, Lebanon's third-largest city, whose population of 300,000 already had been increased by refugees from villages further south, according to the Associated Press.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, secretary-general of the United Nations, sharply criticized Israel's tactics. In a statement, he said it is "deplorable that any government would consciously adopt policies that would lead to the creation of new flows of refugees."

"We are sorry for the suffering of the Lebanese population which is on the road," Mr. Rabin said. "[But] if there is no security and calm in towns in the north, there will be no security and calm for the inhabitants of southern Lebanon north of the security zone."

In criticizing Israel, the Clinton administration sought to dispel an impression among Arab states that it was being too pro-Israel in its reaction.

Also, U.S. officials believe that mild U.S. calls earlier in the week for Israel to exercise "maximum restraint" were being ignored, and the administration was beginning to look too one-sided in laying the blame on Arab nations.

This was particularly true in light of U.S. efforts to squelch any criticism of Israel by the United Nations Security Council. U.S. diplomatic pressure halted a Lebanese move for a Security Council meeting on Israel's attacks.

Calling on all sides "to take all necessary steps to end the violence," State Department spokesman Michael McCurry added, "This includes an end to Israeli air and artillery bombardment and an end to Hezbollah and other terrorist group attacks.

"Military activities directed against all civilians should also stop. We're deeply disturbed by the situation, which has created massive refugee flows in Lebanon. The refugees from south Lebanon must be allowed to return to their homes immediately."

President Clinton, after a meeting with a group of corporate leaders, said, "I think Hezbollah should stop its attacks. I think Israel should stop the bombardments. I think that Syria should go from showing restraint to being an active participant to try to stop the fighting."

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