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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Israel hits back at Hezbollah
Israeli forces in Shebaa Farms area
At least three Israeli posts came under attack
Israeli jets and artillery have pounded Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon after the guerrillas fired rockets at Israeli army positions.

The guerrillas, who are backed by Iran and Syria, attacked at least three Israeli posts in the disputed Shebaa Farms area on the border at about 1840 (1540 GMT), security officials said.

Israel struck back with air raids and artillery fire on the nearby Lebanese border towns of Kfar Chouba and Shebaa. Witnesses said at least two people were injured in Shebaa.

Israeli soldier at the border
Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000
Hezbollah has stepped up its attacks in the flashpoint area in the past week, prompting fears of a second front opening up in the Middle East conflict.

During the week, rockets have also been fired into northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - but Hezbollah denied knowledge of these attacks.

The Lebanese authorities have arrested six Palestinians for launching rockets at Israeli targets in the border area.

Click here for map of border

The men had a rocket in their possession when they were arrested, according to government sources.

Lebanese troops have been sent to the border - including the Shebaa Farms area - to stave off further cross-border skirmishes.

Cave hideout

The six Palestinian suspects were found hiding in a cave in the western Bekaa valley, close to Lebanon's border with the Golan Heights, officials said.

What is happening in the south is a reaction which we understand because these people are worried about their families

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi

Armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and a ready-to-fire Katyusha rocket, they were captured after a short exchange of fire on Friday.

Prosecutor-General Adnan Addoum said they would be charged with acquiring and transporting illegal weapons and undermining national security.

Government sources said another three Palestinians had been arrested in a separate incident on Thursday.

They said the three men, who were travelling between the southern coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre at the time of their arrest, had rocket detonators in their possession.

Information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said the rocket attacks were an understandable reaction by Palestinians to Israel's invasion of Palestinian cities after a wave of suicide bombings.

"But it is unacceptable to the Lebanese Government and we are doing our duty here," he said.

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The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"It has been a bloody battle"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Hezbollah plays for high stakes
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Gunmen fire on Israel from Lebanon
31 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel warns Syria over Lebanon
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six Israelis die in ambush
13 Feb 02 | Middle East
Lebanon hears case against Sharon
24 Jan 02 | Middle East
Lebanon's cocktail of hatreds
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Timeline: Lebanon
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