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Israel strikes strategic targets in Lebanon

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Smoke billows from a Lebanese target hit by Israeli artillery fire on Saturday  

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Israeli air force fired on targets east of Beirut early Monday, including a Syrian army radar position on Mount Lebanon, Israeli and Lebanese officials said.

And in its strongest language since withdrawing its forces from south Lebanon nearly a year ago, Israel accused the Hezbollah of a "terrorist policy" operated "under the patronage of the Syrian government."

According to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces, its airplanes attacked a Syrian military radar monitoring station in Daher el-Bayader, north of the Beirut-Damascus highway.

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Lebanese security officials said the Syrian military suffered casualties after the Israelis fired on the Syrian radar position on Mount Lebanon, about 20 miles east of the capital. Witnesses reported a series of attacks by aircraft at the highest point on the mountain, near the army radar installation.

Unconfirmed reports claim two or three Syrians were killed in the attacks.

It was unclear what other damage was caused in the late-night attack. It was the first time since 1996 that the Israeli air force struck Syrian positions in that area.

The IDF said the attack followed heavy fire by Hezbollah over the weekend, which killed an Israeli soldier. Its statement accused Syria of continuing to encourage terrorist activities against Israel.

"The IDF will not tolerate the continuation of the terrorist policy conducted by the Hezbollah operated under the patronage of the Syrian government," the statement said.

"IDF will use all the means at its disposal to ensure the safety and the security of the residents of the Israeli northern border, and of the Israeli soldiers," it continued.

In the first official Lebanese reaction to the strikes, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Israel's military action was "a dangerous attack on both Syria and Lebanon." He warned against any further Israeli decisions to widen the "circle of tension" in the area, calling on the international community to move quickly in order to contain such tension before it takes on dangerous dimensions.

The strikes were in line with an Israeli threat to retaliate against Lebanon and Syria for what it said was a Hezbollah guerrilla attack on an Israeli battle tank Saturday. The attack happened in a disputed area called Shebaa Farms, a triangle of land at the foot of the Golan Heights that is bordered by Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Israel retaliated immediately by shelling two villages and suspected Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon Saturday.

The United Nations said Hezbollah's attacks against the tank were in clear violation of a U.N. resolution calling for the Israelis to leave Lebanon. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. Secretary-General's personal representative for southern Lebanon, expressed concern at the Hezbollah action, following his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Hariri's newspaper had earlier criticized Hezbollah's wisdom and timing in carrying out the attack, implying it was not in Lebanon's national interest to be sucked into a wider conflict.

Since May 24, 2000, when Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, there have been eight attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas on the Israeli army at the border. Three Israeli soldiers died, and three soldiers and one Israeli civilian were kidnapped.

Though Israel has taken other retaliatory action, the events of the weekend mark the first serious Israeli counter action using aircraft.

CNN Producer Pierre Klochendler in Jerusalem contributed to this report



RELATED STORIES:
Israel retaliates for Hezbollah attack
April 14, 2001
Violence flares in Gaza, along Israel-Lebanon border
April 14, 2001
Residents of south Lebanon welcome arrival of Lebanese forces
August 9, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Lebanese Armed Forces
Lebanese Presidential Palace
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Knesset, Israeli Parliament
Israel Defense Forces
Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N.

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