Israelis halt shelling of S. Lebanon Guerrillas' rocket attacks to end under U.S. plan

August 01, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Israel ended its weeklong barrage of southern Lebanon yesterday after the United States arranged a cease-fire allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees to go home.

In return for a stop to the shelling, guerrillas in southern Lebanon promised not to fire rockets at northern Israel, according to the terms of the cease-fire.

"We want quiet and calm" on both sides, said Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He said Israel's military is watching the "test" to see whether the cease-fire terms will hold. As of late last night, there were no reported violations.

The artillery fell quiet at 6 p.m., ending a fierce bombardment that had killed an estimated 130 people in Lebanon and led to retaliation that killed three Israelis. International pressure was increasing on Israel to end the siege, which the Israeli government acknowledged was intended to drive civilians from their homes.

An exodus estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000 had fled towns in southern Lebanon. On the other side of the border, about 100,000 Israeli civilians took to bomb shelters or left their towns for fear of rocket retaliations.

The cease-fire, which Israel described as "understandings," reportedly involved an unusual pact among parties who have long been at war: Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas. Officials said the United States was the go-between.

Mr. Rabin had 10 telephone conversations in the last few days with U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, an aide said.

The agreement appeared to restore the informal rules between Hezbollah and Israel in which clashes are contained to the 9-mile-wide "security zone" occupied by Israeli troops in Lebanon.

Israel said Hezbollah had agreed not to take its attacks beyond the zone into northern Israel, but the government here did not say whether Israel had agreed to halt its periodic attacks north of the zone.

"The understanding is that [Israel] will continue to act in order to defend the security zone," said a government spokesman, Uri Dromi.

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon told reporters in Beirut that the agreement did not prevent the Hezbollah from continuing attacks within the security zone to try to oust Israel from the country.

"Nobody can ask the people who are fighting the occupation to give up their arms unless Israel agrees to withdraw from the south," he said. "They did not destroy Hezbollah. Israel is giving them a reason to fight."

Reuters in Beirut quoted a statement from Hezbollah as promising no further attacks on Israel territory if "the Zionist aggression against our people stops." But it said that continuing to try to remove Israel from Lebanon "is a national and religious right."

The end of the shelling was hailed by Israeli elected officials from all political sides. Announcement of the deal came just as supporters of a peace protest were organizing demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv against the military campaign.

Opinion polls last week suggested that the Israeli public strongly supported the bombardment, but international criticism over the dislocation of civilians was making some uncomfortable.

"The agreement looks good," Yossi Sarid, a Knesset member, of a leftist party, said on Israel Radio. "I'm pleased for the inhabitants of the north, for the [army] soldiers, for the refugees in Lebanon. Two-hundred-fifty thousand [refugees] is an enormous number."

"I welcome the cease-fire," said Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition rightist Likud bloc. "I hope the goals will be achieved."

In a speech on Army Radio announcing the cease-fire, Mr. Rabin warned that the military "will remain well-prepared to react" to any violation of the understandings.

But he cited U.S. involvement in the agreement -- as much as the threat of further bombing -- as insurance that it will be honored.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said it was "a good combination of military and diplomatic work."

But the army chief of staff, Ehud Barak, cautioned on Army Radio: "We cannot be sure how long this understanding will last."

The bombardment, the most intense by Israel since it had invaded Lebanon in 1982, involved about 30,000 artillery shells and nearly 1,000 flights by jets and helicopters and included missile attacks by Israeli navy ships off Lebanon's cost. The guerrillas responded by launching about 350 lightweight Katyusha rockets, according to United Nations sources.

Because of the fighting, Mr. Christopher had delayed a Mideast trip intended to try to restart the stalled Mideast peace negotiations. Israeli sources said he may now arrive in the region tomorrow.

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