8 Lebanese reportedly killed in Israeli air strike against Hezbollah


JERUSALEM -- Eight Lebanese civilians were killed yesterday when Israel conducted its first strike against the militant Islamic group Hezbollah since the government accused it of attacking Jewish and Israeli institutions abroad, south Lebanese security sources said.

An Israeli Army spokeswoman apologized for what she said was the mistaken bombing of a home in the village of Deir Zaharani.

The spokeswoman said that "innocent civilians are not a target," and that the army "expresses sorrow for the casualties."

Israel Radio reported that the incident is under investigation by the army.

The air raid came one day before U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher was due to arrive in Damascus, Syria, for another attempt at breaking the deadlock in the peace negotiations between the Israelis and Syrians.

The incident is likely to heighten the already tense atmosphere in southern Lebanon, where Israel and Hezbollah are engaged in ** deadly tit-for-tat strikes against each other.

Hezbollah has threatened to fire rockets into northern Israel if Israel strikes at it in southern Lebanon.

South Lebanese security sources said that eight people were killed and as many as 15 were injured in the attack on Deir Zaharani.

The sources said a home and adjacent shop were flattened in the town in a direct hit from a missile fired from an Israeli jet.

One unidentified man, his wife and their two children were

among the dead. Another unidentified civilian, another woman and two more children were also said to have been killed.

Thousands of Lebanese began fleeing their villages in the south last month, seeking safety in the north after Israel threatened to make Hezbollah pay for attacks on a Jewish organization's building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Israeli Embassy in London and a Jewish community center in London. As many as 100 people died in the Buenos Aires bombing.

Villagers had begun coming home recently, according to Lebanese news reports, believing that the Israelis had decided not to strike.

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