West Bank attacks kill 3 Israeli troops 'Security zone' hit in south Lebanon


JERUSALEM -- Israel's enemies replied to progress in the peace talks by staging attacks in the West Bank that killed three Israeli soldiers and by renewed shelling of Israeli-held positions in Lebanon yesterday.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction. Whenever peace has a chance, those who oppose it try to undermine it," said the Israeli government spokesman, Uri Dromi.

The soldiers were killed in two separate attacks, one yesterday and one Thursday night before the departure of the U.S. secretary of state, Warren M. Christopher, who was here to seek a restart in the stalled peace talks. Israel's censor delayed release of the news until yesterday.

In the attack Thursday night, a 20-year-old soldier was hitchhiking from Ramallah to his home in Jerusalem when he was abducted. His body was found in a burning van in a nearby West Bank village.

Yesterday morning, gunmen opened fire on an army checkpoint in the West Bank, killing two soldiers. In the return fire, one of the gunmen was killed, one was wounded and a third escaped, according to an army spokesman.

Also yesterday, guerrillas in southern Lebanon staged a rocket attack on the Israeli-held "security zone," the second such attack in 24 hours. The attack was on positions occupied by Israel's ally in the zone, the South Lebanon Army. One soldier was reported wounded.

After the attack, the commander of the South Lebanon Army, Gen. Antoine Lahad, hinted at a renewal of the bombardment of southern Lebanon. According to Israel Radio, he warned Lebanese not to rebuild the homes they fled during the barrage FTC until the villages had been taken over from guerrillas by regular Lebanese army forces.

The attacks brought renewed vows by Israeli security officials to retaliate. But the political reaction was restrained, as government sources drew a distinction between these incidents and previous attacks within Israel's borders.

Attacks on soldiers in the occupied territories and in southern Lebanon usually do not violate Israel's "red lines" requiring retribution, the sources said.

"Unfortunately, this is something we have grown to expect," said Alexander Bligh, formerly the government's Arab-Affairs minister and now a senior lecturer at Hebrew University.

"There are terrorist attacks during the peace process. I believe what we see now is the shaping of the Muslim fundamentalist reaction to the cease-fire" in southern Lebanon, he said. "They are telling Israel that the cease-fire won't help you."

Israel ended a fierce six-day bombardment of southern Lebanon a week ago with a cease-fire brokered by Mr. Christopher. The cease-fire did not preclude attacks within the "security zone." Guerrillas say they are fighting as legitimate resistance to Israel's occupation of Lebanese territory.

Israel said the barrage was a retaliation for rocket fire on towns in northern Israel. Similarly, Israel reacted stridently last December -- by deporting 415 Palestinians -- after the kidnap-slaying of a border guard in an incident similar to Thursday's. But that kidnapping occurred from a neighborhood well within Israel's borders.

In Thursday's incident, an army spokesman said, Yaron Chen, 20, was hitchhiking about 6 p.m. from his base near Ramallah, nine miles north of Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank.

He was picked up by three men in a white van bearing Israeli license plates, according to another soldier hitchhiking on the opposite side of the road. The witness said Private Chen began struggling immediately after he got into the car.

The witness, who was not identified, then stopped a passing car driven by a mother with a baby. They pursued the van, with the soldier firing into the air, according to Israel Radio. But the van escaped in the traffic.

About three hours later, soldiers in the nearby village of Beitunia saw a van afire and discovered the charred body of Private Chen inside.

The second attack, yesterday morning, occurred near Deir Balut, 15 miles northwest of Ramallah in the West Bank. About 10:30 a.m., a Peugeot car stopped at an army roadblock, and two men got out and opened fire with automatic weapons at soldiers there, according to an army spokesman. Two soldiers were fatally wounded.

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