Israeli warplanes today rocketed suspected Hizbullah targets in South Lebanon. There was no immediate word on casualties in the air assault, the 83rd on Lebanon this year. Lebanese security sources said two Israeli jets later fired a total of two rockets on the hills of Sojod in Iqlim al-Touffah. Earlier, Hizbullah guerrillas ambushed an Israeli patrol heading towards the outpost of Sojod in the central sector of the zone Israel occupies in the South, wounding a soldier. Lebanese police reported fierce clashes between Israeli troops and Hizbullah guerrillas near the village. Israeli army sources said a high-ranking Israeli officer was lightly wounded in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar round. Israeli-allied militia sources said an exchange of fire followed.
The international cease-fire committee ended a meeting today in Naqoura without naming any party responsible for the deadly weekend in the South. After a 20-hour meeting at the UN headquarters, the panel urged all combatants however to respect the terms of the April 96 accord and avoid putting civilians at risk. The committee confirmed however some incidents that triggered Lebanon and Israel to file complaints over alleged truce violations, but the panel did not condemn any of the concerned parties. The monitoring group confirmed in a statement that two shells fired by an "armed group impacted in the village of Beit Leif". It said the shelling killed seven civilians, injured four others and damaged private property.
But the committee did not identify the party behind the shelling. The statement added that the Lebanese delegate to the committee stated that his authorities were investigating the case and that Lebanon was taking all measures necessary to prevent the recurrence of such actions. The statement quoted the Israeli delegate as saying the incident showed disregard for the safety of civilians and constituted a violation of the cease-fire accord. A source of the Lebanese delegation to the committee yesterday said that the casualties in Beit Leif fell when a French-made Milan rocket slammed on the village adding that only Israel and its allied militia have these kind of rockets while the resistance does not. Lebanon had filed two complaints over Israeli shelling on Sunday that wounded a 35-year-old woman near Tyre and damaged houses in Nabatieh. Israel on the other hand lodged four separate complaints over the shelling of Beit Leif, Katyusha rockets that fell on northern Israel. Two other complaints concerned mortars and rockets launched against Israeli positions allegedly from civilian areas during which two Israeli soldiers were wounded by shrapnel.
About 500 villagers in South Lebanon yesterday protested against the killing of civilians in the village of Beit Leif last week. Eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded in an artillery attack on Sunday which Israel blamed on the Amal Movement. Amal denied it was behind the attack in Beit Leif. Protesters tried to enter the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in the village of Naqoura but were prevented from getting in. Some carried banners demanding that UNIFIL identify the party responsible. The protest coincided with a meeting of the five-nation cease-fire monitoring group at the UNIFIL headquarters to look into two complaints filed by Lebanon and four others lodged by Israel concerning alleged truce violations during the weekend.
The chief of Israeli troops in Lebanon general Amiram Levine today admitted that senior officers in his command favored a unilateral withdrawal from the buffer zone Israel occupies in the South. Levine said on army radio there was a debate in the army leadership between those who favor a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and those who think the priority was improving Israeli fighting capability there. Levine added he personally opposed an unconditional pullout. Levine denied a report aired on Israel television last night that he recently declared to a group of senior army officers that he favored pursuing a more offensive approach to combating Hizbullah as well as unspecified punishment targeting the Lebanese government for its failure "to rein in anti-Israeli guerrillas". At a press conference Levine held after the television report, he said that such a withdrawal would be dangerous.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri today held talks with President Elias Al-Hrawi and House Speaker Nabih Berri before leaving to Morocco to visit Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Abdel Aziz who has undergone surgery.
Discussions centered on the 1998 draft budget and other economic issues. last night, Hariri addressed the International Catholic Journalist Union and discussed with them a series of local and regional issues. Addressing the delegation, Hariri urged Europe to take a more active role in the Mideast peace process and called on European countries to use their strong economic ties with Israel to help achieve peace in the region.
In parliament today, opposition members denounced a government plan to borrow $2 billion in foreign currency to cover an expected deficit in the 1998 state budget saying it would hurt the economy. Deputy Hussein Al-Husseini said the county must rely on is own realistic resources adding this would leave a negative impact on the economic, financial, and social situation. Deputy Nassib Lahhoud also expressed doubts about the plan and demanded officials ignore it. Lahhoud told reporters increasing the foreign debt to decrease the domestic debt will not save more than one percent from the 1998 budget adding it was not worth taking the risk of long-term foreign currency borrowing.
Renowned US cardiologist Michael Dabaghee, who presided over last year's bypass surgery on Russian President Boris Yeltsin, today promised to help found a new medical school in his name in Lebanon. The famous heart surgeon of Lebanese origin was honored today at the presidential palace in Baabda.
President Elias Al-Hrawi awarded Dabaghee the national cedar medal stressing the famous cardiologist's Lebanese origins. Hrawi praised his accomplishments in the US and especially his successful treatment of Yeltsin. For his part, Dabaghee praised the high standards of Lebanese medicine students studying in the USA describing them as the best. He earlier met House Speaker Nabih Berri at his residence in Ain Al-Teeneh.
Dabaghee also unveiled today a memorial plaque inscribed with his name at the Byblos campus of the Lebanese American University where the medical school will be built. LAU officials said the establishment of the medical school will cost between 40 million dollars and 50 million dollars. The 89-year-old doctor is making his first visit to Lebanon since 1971. Dabaghee has presided over 60,000 cardiovascular procedures and published more than 1,300 articles and books on surgery, medical research and education. He has been the recipient of many prominent awards, including the 1969 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award bestowed on a US citizen by the US president.
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