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Israeli planes strike in Lebanon

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM - The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon flared anew yesterday after shells fired by guerrillas killed an Israeli teen-ager and wounded four in the border town of Shlomi. The shelling sparked an attack by Israeli warplanes on suspected Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

Also yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet that the U.S.-backed plan for Palestinian statehood would not move ahead until the Palestinians carry out their pledge to dismantle militant groups. The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said later that Palestinian security forces aren't doing enough to stop attacks.

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Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat said it was the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who were failing to live up to their commitments.

Yesterday's shelling, the third consecutive day of attacks by Hezbollah, lasted an hour along parts of the northern border.

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"We have warned Syria and Iran that we hold them responsible for this escalation on our northern border," said Avi Pazner, spokesman for Sharon. He emphasized that Israel has shown "a great measure of restraint" and that the government is working through diplomatic channels to defuse the situation.

Early last night, residents of Shlomi were urged to go to air raid shelters, the first time the army has issued such an order in three years.

Hezbollah, a militant group backed by Syria and Iran, said the shelling was aimed at Israeli planes over southern Lebanon. An Israeli military official declined to comment on the flights but said Hezbollah targeted Israeli communities.

After the shelling of Shlomi and two Israeli towns in the Golan Heights, Israeli warplanes flew into southern Lebanon for the second time in three days, attacking the area from which the guerrillas had fired.

"If the situation continues and the means we currently employ do not work, then the Israeli Defense Forces will do whatever must be done to protect the residents of the north. We have no desire to open a new front, but we cannot agree to our people in the north being harmed," said Zeev Boim, Israel's deputy defense minister.

Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation and almost daily clashes with Hezbollah. There had been no shelling for the past eight months.

Causes of attacks

But an Israeli Defense Forces statement issued yesterday reported "massive Hezbollah fire during which the militants used anti-tank missiles, light weapons fire and mortars against IDF posts."

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In Beirut, Lebanon, Hezbollah said the shelling was in retaliation for overflights by Israeli warplanes and the death a week ago of activist Ali Hussein Saleh.

Israel says Saleh was not a senior Hezbollah figure but a driver for the guerrilla group, and the explosion of his car provided an excuse for the guerrillas to stage attacks.

The dead teen-ager in Shlomi was identified as Haviv Dadon, 16. He and the four who were wounded were working to renovate a school when two shells exploded near them.

Hezbollah is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. The United States has told Lebanon and Syria that the Bush administration is concerned about the "calculated and provocative escalation" by Hezbollah and urged both Arab governments to restrain the guerrillas from launching further attacks.

Meanwhile, at yesterday's weekly Cabinet meeting, Yaalon, the Israeli military chief of staff, said a West Bank bomb factory raided by troops Friday was preparing missiles to be launched into Israel, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two members of Hamas and an Israeli soldier were killed in the raid, and a Palestinian man throwing stones was killed by Israeli troops. Hamas, which was among the groups that declared a cease-fire, threatened revenge.

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Hamas claimed responsibility for a homemade Qassam rocket fired at the Gush Katif settlement in the Gaza Strip yesterday. No one was injured, but six people, including children, were treated for shock at a hospital.

Briefing reporters after the Cabinet meeting, the Israeli official quoted Yaalon as saying that although the Palestinian public was opposed to terror attacks on Israelis and wanted the six-week-old cease-fire to continue, Palestinian security forces were doing little to stop attacks.

"When occasionally something is done, it is generally a result of American pressure," the official quoted Yaalon as saying. "The Palestinian Authority must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - period."

West Bank tension

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his government have made clear that terror attacks should stop, but only a few weapons have been taken. The Palestinians argue that as long as the militants are not attacking Israelis, they should be given time to disarm them by persuasion.

The Israeli official said Sharon made clear during the Cabinet meeting that there can be "no progress toward a Palestinian state without full implementation of their obligations."

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Tension in the West Bank was evident yesterday after the arrest of four Hamas activists, the closure of Palestinian areas in Hebron and Israel's refusal to change the route of a security fence along the West Bank.

Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom told Israel Radio that the government would not change the planned route of the fence despite a plea by President Bush to reconsider the route, which cuts into Palestinian territory. "The fence is meant to prevent extremist groups from dismantling and ending the peace process. Therefore the fence will continue to be built," Shalom said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing company. Wire services contributed to this report.


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