No such thing as a surgical strike Israeli hits: Progress with PLO while Lebanese innocents are slaughtered.

April 19, 1996

THE AWFUL barrage in southern Lebanon that killed at least 90 persons huddled under a Fijian soldiers' hut in a U.N. compound was a victory for Hezbollah terrorist gunners. They had fired Katyusha rockets and mortars from 300 yards away, luring supposedly smart, radar-directed, Israeli return fire to the greatest possible atrocity.

Hard as it is to think of progress on the peace front during the barrage, progress was made.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat. They agreed to start final status talks on schedule, May 4. Mr. Arafat pleged anew to have the PLO charter amended so as not to call for Israel's destruction, before that date. Notorious former terrorists including the airline hijacker Leila Khaled entered PLO-governed territory yesterday, with Israeli acquiescence, to take part in the necessary PLO "parliament." Israel pledged to the PLO to remove its troops from Hebron before the May 29 Israeli election.

All this might move Syria's President Hafez el Assad to start a genuine peace effort with Israel so as not to be left behind. It is Syria that tolerates terrorism against Israel by Iran-backed Hezbollah from Lebanon's soil, where Syria keeps occupation troops. Syria can close the terrorists down but has not seen fit to fTC try. Lebanon's government is insufficiently sovereign over its own soil to do so.

Mr. Peres' harsh response to Katyusha rockets, perhaps cynically, strengthens his chance of election as a peace maker. His downfall would halt the peace process. Yet this campaign makes dispossessed and maimed Lebanese civilians the pawns and victims of his indirect pressure on Mr. Assad. The slaughter of innocents was a setback for Israel that may compel it to scale down its objectives.

The tragedy forced postponement of an international meeting about terrorism that was to have taken place in Luxembourg, so that Secretary of State Warren Christopher could shuttle to the Middle East and grip the problem close up. U.S. policy should focus on bringing Mr. Assad unequivocally into the peace process, as well as on ending Israeli artillery and air attacks on Lebanon. That would require shutting down Hezbollah attacks on Israel.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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