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1974: Dozens die as Israel retaliates for Ma'alot
Israeli planes have bombed seven Palestinian refugee camps and villages in southern Lebanon killing at least 27 people and leaving 138 injured.

The attack was in retaliation for yesterday's hostage crisis at a school in Ma'alot near the Lebanon border in which 18 teenagers were killed and 70 were wounded.

Worst hit by the Israeli fighter-bombers were the crowded refugee camps of Ein El Helweh near the city of Sidon and Nabatieh.

An official announcement from the Israeli Defence Force said the planes had been aiming at offices and training bases used by the Popular Democratic Front, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, and the Popular Front under Ahmed Jibril.

The PDF was behind the killing of the schoolchildren at Ma'a lot - and the Popular Front planned the shooting of 16 civilians in Kiryat Shemona on 10 April.

Two nights ago, three Palestinian Arabs dressed as Israeli soldiers took over the school at Ma'alot.

There were more than 100 children aged between 14 and 16 sleeping there on the floor after a day's hiking in the region. Some managed to escape through an open door.

The Israeli Government agreed to the hostage-takers' demands to release 26 political prisoners, including a Japanese national involved in the Lod airport massacre.

But negotiations fell apart when the hostage-takers did not receive a coded message they were waiting for from Damascus.

On 15 May at 1745 local time - 15 minutes before they had said they would kill all the children if their demands were not met - Israeli soldiers raided the school building.

Eighteen children and the three Palestinians were killed in a bloody gun battle.

There were emotional scenes today at the funeral of the children in their home town of Safed.

Many of the 10,000 mourners wailed and some shouted: "Death to the terrorists!"

The Ma'alot tragedy has severely hampered peace efforts by US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger. He has flown from Jerusalem to Damascus to meet Syrian leaders in the hope of reaching some kind of compromise over Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights.

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Ein El Helweh in ruins
Israeli bombers left parts of the refugee camp of Ein El Helweh in ruins

In Context
It was attacks like the one at Ma'alot that led Israeli troops to invade Southern Lebanon in 1978. They pulled back to a self-declared "security zone" in 1985 from which they withdrew in May 2000.

The Popular Democratic Front, now known as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, continued its operations during the late 1970s, and saw a steady increase in its membership.

But it began to distance itself from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and continued to oppose any kind of peace process.

In the late 1990s its leader, Naif Hawatmeh, sought reconciliation with mainstream Palestinians. In February 1999, he shocked hardline Palestinians by shaking hands with the Israeli President Ezer Weizman at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan.

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