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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 07:39 GMT

World: Middle East

Israel bombs Lebanon

Israelis hid in bombshelters in case of revenge attacks

Israeli warplanes have carried out intensive air raids in Southern Lebanon in response to the killing of four Israelis by Hezbollah guerrillas on Sunday.

The overnight assault was one of the heaviest and most widespread for several months.

The army said a number of Hezbollah targets were hit, including what is described as the organisation's headquarters in Baalbek in the eastern Beka'a Valley. At least one raid took place close to the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

Lebanese Information Minister Anwar Khalil: Unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties
Israeli forces also shelled suspected Hezbollah targets in Southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese Information Minister, Anwar Khalil, has told the BBC of unconfirmed reports of civilian deaths in villages hit by Israeli forces.

Fearing revenge attacks, the Israeli army ordered civilians living along Israel's northern border to spend the night in air raid shelters. No attacks were reported, but the all-clear had not been given by dawn.

[ image: Self-declared security zone in Lebanon]
Self-declared security zone in Lebanon
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was expected to convene members of his government on Monday morning to discuss the situation.

BBC Middle East Correspondent Paul Adams says Israel might be poised to launch a substantial attack along the lines of Operation Grapes of Wrath, a largely unsuccessful but extremely bloody Israeli operation three years ago.

On Sunday, Israel said it would wage "a ground, sea and air assault" in response to the Hezbollah attack, which killed an Israeli general, two other soldiers and an Israeli journalist.

However, Mr Netanyahu will be wary of following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Shimon Peres, who launched Grapes of Wrath on the eve of elections. The operation was widely criticised and he lost the poll.

Hilary Andersson: On Sunday night, the streets of northern Israel were deserted
Lebanese Prime Minister Selim Hoss has called for international pressure on Israel to stop the attacks, which he said were targeting civilians. The United States urged both sides to show restraint.

On Sunday evening, Mr Netanyahu said: "We have no desire whatsoever to escalate in Lebanon but neither can we sit aside and accept these criminal attacks."

Senior officer killed

The four Israelis died when a powerful remote-controlled bomb exploded shortly before midday (1000 GMT) on Sunday. They were in a convoy travelling near Israeli military headquarters at Marjayoun.

[ image: General Gerstein liaised with Israel's SLA allies]
General Gerstein liaised with Israel's SLA allies
One of the dead was Brigadier-General Erez Gerstein, the most senior Israeli officer to be killed in Lebanon for 17 years. He had been the chief officer in charge of liaison with Israel's local militia allies, the South Lebanon Army.

In Beirut, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to continue fighting Israel until it withdrew from Southern Lebanon.

Earlier in the week, three Israeli soldiers were killed and five wounded in a fierce battle involving helicopter gunships and warplanes.

Both incidents have sparked demonstrations in Israel by groups calling for a withdrawal from Southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mousawi gives more details of the bombing
Israeli forces have occupied parts of Lebanon since 1978. Israel argues it needs a buffer zone to protect Israel from attacks by Islamic militants.

The Israeli Government recently raised the prospect of negotiating a withdrawal, but it wants the Syrian-backed Lebanese Government to agree to security guarantees first.

For their part, the Lebanese insist on an unconditional withdrawal in line with a 1978 UN resolution.

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