Netanyahu: Lebanon, Syria 'got the message' with airstrikes
June 27, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's most severe airstrikes against Lebanon in three years were a success because "Lebanon and Syria got the message," outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.
Lebanon was beginning to rebuild after air raids on Thursday and Friday that killed nine people, wounded 57 others and knocked out bridges and two main power substations.
"Israel will not allow residents in the north to be harmed, and will react in the harshest manner," Netanyahu said in his weekly message to the Cabinet. The quiet that has reigned since late Friday proves that Lebanon and Syria understood the firm Israel position, he said.
The Israeli airstrikes came as retaliation for a barrage of rocket attacks by the militant Islamic Hezbollah movement. The guerrillas launched the rockets after a Lebanese woman was injured by fire from Israeli forces or the Israeli-backed South Lebanese army militia.
Israeli newspapers quoted intelligence officials as saying Syrian intervention with the guerrillas ended the rocket attacks. Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group, is fighting to oust the Israeli army from a strip of land it occupies in south Lebanon to protect its northern border.
Hezbollah also enjoys the cooperation of Syria, which has more than 30,000 troops stationed in Lebanon.
One of the Hezbollah rocket attacks, coming late Thursday after the first of the Israeli airstrikes, killed two Israelis in the northern town of Kiryat Shemona.
Netanyahu did not inform his successor, Ehud Barak, of the airstrikes until they were under way. Barak will present a government to parliament by July 9.
Barak, who hopes to revive peace talks with Syria frozen by Netanyahu, would not comment directly on the airstrikes after meeting with mayors from the north.
Netanyahu, quoted in the weekly Cabinet statement, warned that Israel was prepared "to make further painful strikes if attacks on northern settlements continued."
But in Amman, Jordan's Prime Minister Raouf al-Rawabdeh on Sunday urged Israel to block more attacks against Lebanon.
"The Israeli aggression against Lebanon will strongly affect the peace process," Rawabdeh warned upon returning from a four-day visit to Beirut.
Both Syria and Jordan are banking on Israel's new prime minister to move the peace process forward. Barak, who promises to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon within a year, and Syrian President Hafez Assad had praised each other's peace intentions in separate press interviews shortly before the attacks.
Meanwhile, Israelis in northern towns and villages protested Sunday, accusing the government of neglecting the economic distress that results from rocket attacks.
About 200 residents of Kiryat Shemona blocked the main north-south highway and demanded that the government compensate workers and employers for losses suffered when the population is forced to spend work days in bomb shelters.
Residents receive compensation only if an emergency lasts more than 48 hours. In the past two weeks, residents lost two work days, but neither the workers nor their employers were compensated. Netanyahu's finance minister, Meir Shetreet, promised residents compensation.
Townspeople also buried Tony Zada, one of two municipal workers killed by a Katyusha rocket fired by guerrillas Thursday.
Last week's strikes were the most punishing since 1996, when tensions escalated into a mini-war.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel andReuters contributed to this report.
Israel moves tanks to Lebanese border in wake of airstrikes
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