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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Analysis: Legacy of Israel's withdrawal
Palestinian protestors at the al-Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus
Israeli air strikes have angered Palestinians in Syria
By Jeremy Cooke in Jerusalem

It is almost a year since Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon, a consequence of a high-risk strategy by the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

Although Mr Barak has been replaced by Ariel Sharon, his gamble has, to a certain extent, paid off.

But while there have been none of the rocket attacks on northern Jewish settlements which had previously been part of the Hezbollah strategy against Israel, there has been violence.

The Islamic guerrillas have carried out several attacks against Israeli forces on the border, the latest resulting in the death of Staff Sergeant Elad Litvak this weekend.

Hezbollah insists that it is fighting for the liberation of Lebanese territory which is under Israeli occupation.

The Israelis contest that, saying that the status of the disputed Shebaa Farms area must be determined as part of an overall peace agreement with Syria.

Hard line

The new Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was elected earlier this year on the promise that he would take a hard line against any attack on Israeli citizens or territory and now he is delivering on that promise.

A statement from Mr Sharon's office says that Hezbollah is operating "with the knowledge and under the auspices of Syria" and levels the accusation that Syria "has not lifted a finger" to stop the violence.

That is why Mr Sharon and his security cabinet authorised an attack against the Syrian Army in Lebanon.

Syrian soldiers inspecting the damage after Israeli air strikes
Syria is still weighing up how to respond
The tough action is matched by tough talking. The Israelis are now referring to Lebanon as a "centre for international terrorism" and are warning that Syria will "pay a heavy price" if Hezbollah continues its attacks.

But it is a strategy which has obvious risks and the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud has warned that this region now stands on the brink of a "general confrontation".

The Syrian Foreign Minister said the Israeli air-strike was a "gross violation of international law".

Response to come

The question now centres on how Syria will respond to the killing of its soldiers and the destruction of its radar site.

A direct military response may not prove attractive to the Syrians who are well aware of the strength of Israeli fire-power, but it is possible that Hezbollah will be encouraged to strike back at Israel, perhaps with missile strikes in the north of the country.

Any such attacks would, once again, provoke an Israeli response.

This region is braced for a new round of violent action and reaction that threatens to bring further instability and bloodshed.

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