Israel shuns retaliation over killings Rabin says truce was not violated

August 21, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Despite a surge of bitter anger among Israelis over the loss of nine soldiers in southern Lebanon, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin held fast yesterday to an agreement reached with Syria and did not send forces to flush Iranian-backed guerrillas from Lebanese villages.

Mr. Rabin also reaffirmed Israel's commitment to peace negotiations with Syria in the face of demands by the right-wing opposition that it break off the talks following the deadliest attack on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon since 1985. Israel views Syria as the paramount power in Lebanon.

"The way to avert such tragedies in the future is a peace agreement," a senior Rabin adviser said. "That is a strategic decision we made, and we will not be forced out of it by terrorist attacks in southern Lebanon or political posturing at home."

The popular response would have been a large-scale Israeli counterattack in Lebanon yesterday as the soldiers were buried amid national mourning.

Eight soldiers were killed in two blasts in the western part of the self-declared "security zone" Thursday; a ninth, wounded in the second blast, died early yesterday.

Political sentiment was for an ultimatum to Syria to disarm Hezbollah, the fundamentalist, pro-Iranian Party of God, that had ambushed the soldiers in Israel's security zone in southern Lebanon.

"The government must come to the conclusion that there is no value to the agreements reached [on Lebanon] with Syria," said Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the opposition Likud bloc. "We must clearly demand that Syria stop the Hezbollah terror. It must be made clear to them that the blood of our soldiers is not for the taking."

As they buried their dead from the two ambushes, both within a mile of the country's northern border, many Israelis expressed a sense of betrayal.

Most had thought that the agreement reached with Syria last month ending Israel's weeklong air, artillery and naval bombardment of Lebanon was intended to curtail, if not halt entirely, the Hezbollah attacks.

"What was the point?" demanded Haim Ben-Zvi, a Jerusalem shopkeeper. "Why did we try to bomb half of Lebanon to smithereens, why did we drive half a million people from their homes, why did we go through all that if not to achieve quiet in southern Lebanon?"

The answer, Mr. Rabin told the nation in a radio interview, was that "Operation Accountability," as it was dubbed, was aimed at securing peace for Israel's northern communities, which Hezbollah had been attacking with short-range Katyusha rockets.

The agreement reached with Syria through U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher's mediation was that Hezbollah would not attack northern Israeli settlements if Israel did not attack civilian targets in Lebanon -- removing those Israeli towns and farms from what Mr. Rabin called the "war of attrition" in southern Lebanon.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, on a visit to Norway, also said the latest clashes did not violate the terms of the cease-fire. "It wasn't a breach of the agreement, it was a breach of peace," he said.

"What we said was, 'Stop shooting over the Galilee and we won't touch you.' But if killing and shooting will be continued, we will have to take the necessary measures," Mr. Peres added.

Mr. Rabin also warned Hezbollah against transgressing the limits forconflict. "The moment that red line is passed, as we have said, it will not be allowed to go unnoticed," he told Israel Radio.

But the "red line" is the security of Israel's northern border settlements, not the security zone that extends 9 miles into southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah leaders, proud of the casualties their guerrillas inflicted on Israel, repeated their determination to destroy the Arab-Israeli peace talks.

"The only language we shall use with the enemy is the language of fire," said Hassan Hobballah, a senior Hezbollah leader, in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre.

But the understanding reached between Israel and Syria -- an agreement that could be a starting point for an eventual peace treaty -- remained intact yesterday.

There were no signs of a military buildup in northern Israel as NTC there were a month ago, before Israel's bombardment of southern Lebanon. The July offensive was triggered by a series of guerrilla attacks that killed seven Israeli soldiers over three weeks.

In Geneva, the United Nations launched an urgent appeal yesterday for $28.7 million to rebuild schools and homes in south Lebanon damaged by the Israeli blitz. About 1,500 homes were destroyed and 16,000 damaged, according to the U.N. appeal document.

In south Lebanon, villagers yesterday braced for more Israeli raids, and about 3,000 people fled their homes, security sources said.

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