Israeli soldier dies in suicide bombing

Israel Lebanon Flags

Country weighs major anti-Hezbollah strike

March 20, 1996
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EST (1845 GMT)

TAIBEH, Lebanon (CNN) -- In the aftermath of another suicide bombing Wednesday, Israel has begun attacks against suspect terrorist targets in southern Lebanon.

Some of the targets lie north of Israel's self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon, U.S. diplomatic sources said.

suicide bomber

The bomber blew himself up near the village of Taibeh, Lebanon, next to an Israeli army convoy, killing one soldier and wounding at least one civilian, according to the Israeli army.

Military officials said troops came under mortar fire around the same time. Israeli gunners opened up with 155 mm howitzers and 120 mm mortars against a cluster of Shiite Muslim villages just north of Taibeh, according to Lebanese security sources.

Afterward, as Israeli troops and soldiers from the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army investigated the attack, another explosion in a nearby village killed an SLA soldier.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas claimed responsibility for Wednesday's suicide bombing in southern Lebanon. It followed a recent series of similar incidents within Israel that killed 62 people, including four bombers.

Lebanon map

Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group, is opposed to Israel's occupation of the border strip in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah said Wednesday's suicide bombing was in response to the international anti-terrorism conference held in Egypt last week. Lebanon officially rejected an invitation to the summit.

In recent weeks, Hizbollah and other guerrillas have launched almost daily attacks against Israeli and SLA targets in a bid to oust them from the nine-mile-wide zone they occupy in southern Lebanon.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres has publicly warned Hezbollah of swift and strong action if the attacks continue.

U.S. officials say that while Syrian President Hafez al-Assad doesn't completely control Hezbollah, he does have considerable influence over the Islamic fundamentalist group.

"Assad can turn the faucet on and off," said one U.S. official.

U.S. officials also say the Israeli army has a considerable number of tanks and other firepower available in the area, and could launch a retaliatory strike at any time.

Officials told CNN they expect Israel's retaliation to be the harshest since a period of intense aerial bombardment in southern Lebanon in the summer of 1993.

That round of Israeli attacks led U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to arrange a series of agreements among Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Under those agreements, Israeli was to stop its attacks in southern Lebanon, and anti-Israeli Hezbollah guerrillas were to confine their anti-Israeli attacks to within that area.

U.S. officials now fear a fresh round of harsh Israeli aerial attacks could jeopardize the spirit of Arab-Israeli cooperation against terrorism which was created at last week's Sharm el-Sheikh "Summit of Peacemakers" in Egypt.

house explosion

As a follow-up to the anti-terrorist summit, Washington was planning talks next week with Arabs and Israelis. Those talks could be scuttled by Israel's military response in southern Lebanon.

With Israeli elections scheduled for May, Prime Minister Shimon Peres is "under strong pressure" to react strongly to the latest attacks, U.S. officials say.

Also Wednesday, Israel demolished two Palestinian homes belonging to families of Muslim militants involved in the suicide attacks. Israelis wiped out the houses, despite appeals from human rights groups not to do so. (485K QuickTime movie)

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