Northern Israel came under attack Wednesday from Hezbollah terrorists who fired several Katyusha rockets over the border from positions in southern Lebanon. It was an apparent attempt to avenge the deaths of a Lebanese soldier and civilian killed in three days of massive Israeli air attacks against Hezbollah positions and suspected armed Palestinian camps close to the Syrian border.
Israelis in the north headed braced for more attacks after the first wave of shells landed in an orchard, reportedly narrowly missing farmers working there. There were no immediate reports of injuries. In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah vowed to teach Israel “lessons” for the “latest Zionist aggression.”
The Israeli warplanes struck just two days after the 22-nation Arab League met in Beirut to issue a blistering attack against Israel for destroying three power stations in Lebanon in air raids Feb. 8. The Israeli attack came during an 18-day period during which seven Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Lebanon. This week’s Israeli air assault was the largest since then. It reportedly destroyed seven long-range cannons and four mobile Katyusha rocket launchers. The action came as the Israeli air force took possession of the Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile, moving the country a step closer to erecting a military shield.
As the war in the north intensified, Israelis and Palestinians prepared to resume peace talks in Washington and agreed on the transfer of another 6.1 percent of West Bank land to the Palestinians. But peace talks with Syria, which broke off in January, appeared elusive. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that unless talks start in the next six weeks, prospects of them restarting anytime soon were dim.
Curiously, a man purporting to be an emissary of Syrian President Hafez Assad attended a wedding Saturday night at the Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan and “approached groups” of people with an invitation to go to Syria, according to one of the guests, Sam Domb. He said he did not know if anyone accepted.
The latest Israeli West Bank transfer now gives the Palestinians control of more than 40 percent of the West Bank. Although the village of Anata, a Palestinian village of about 8,500 six miles from the north-east border of Jerusalem, had initially been intended to be included in the transfer, Barak changed his mind at the last minute because of pressure from right-wing members of his fragile coalition government.
Yehudit Tayar, director-general of the foreign desk of the Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers, said her group was “very pleased the prime minister changed his mind and realized the public pressure would not allow him to divide Jerusalem. We expect him to protect Jewish interests, and what more important interest is there than the eternal capital of Israel.”
In a phone interview, Tayar explained that Anata is “right next to Jerusalem; it’s connected to it, and it exposes Jerusalem to being divided.”
Barak reiterated Tuesday that he has no intention of dividing Jerusalem, saying that the unity of the city was “a priority for the government of Israel.”
“Jerusalem, united, wide, under the sovereignty, the capital of Israel forever, the heart of the Jewish people,” he told reporters Monday. “This is our position and will stay as our position all along the way. We will not change it. We will not compromise it. Let me tell you frankly that whoever raises a question mark about this unity of position weakens our position rather than strengthening it.”
In another development, the children and family of Yaron Ungar, an American killed with his wife, Efrat, in a drive-by shooting by Palestinian terrorists nearly four years ago filed suit in federal court in Rhode Island against the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The lead plaintiffs in the suit are the Ungar’s two sons, Dvir, 5, and Yishai, who were not in the car when gunmen drove up and opened fire on June 9, 1996.
An attorney for the family, Nitsana Leitner, said in a phone interview that the $250 million suit was being brought under a never-before-used law that permits suits against terrorist organizations that attack Americans anywhere in the world. She said the gunmen have been arrested and four are now in an Israeli prison and a fifth is free somewhere in territory held by the Palestinian Authority.