The military escalation in south Lebanon over the past three days was little short of the red lines. The Israeli warplanes raided Feb 11 First the Hizbullah run "Voice of the Oppressed" radio station near Baalbeck at 11.15 a.m. The radio, which was a target of four Israeli raids in the past two years, went off the air after it sustained direct hits but resumed broadcasts 2 hours later. One person who is a shepherd was reported wounded by shrapnels. The second air raid was against the Palestinian group PFLP G.C base near Sultan Yacoub, close to the borders with Syria. According to the group's officials three Palestinian men were wounded. Two hours later, the Israeli warplanes rocketed the Naameh hills south of Beirut, where another base of the PFLP G.C. No casualties were reported.
A statement by Hizbullah said the raids are a flagrant violation of the 1996 April's ceasefire, which Israel is continuously breaching, it is same time an attempt to raise its army morale, following the two helicopters crash and the Sunday attack by the resistance fighters wounding 7 of its soldiers.
The 7 soldiers were wounded on Sunday when the resistance men ambushed a foot patrol with a roadside bomb explosion near the village of Blat in the western sector of the security zone. The resistance men clashed with the Israeli reinforcements rushed in to the area but no casualties were reported among them.
In a retaliatory action, the Israeli jet fighters raided the village of Zibqine, north of the security zone and facing Blat same day.
According to security sources in south Lebanon, the Islamic resistance led by the Hizbullah has already launched 58 attack against the Israeli forces and the Israeli backed SLA since early this year. 4 Israeli soldiers killed and 15 others wounded in the attacks, 7 SLA men were injured, and 7 resistance men wounded including 3 from the Amal movement led by speaker Nabih Berri.
Uri Lubrani, the coordinator of the Israeli activities in Lebanon, Gen. Eli Amitai, accompanied by the SLA commander Antoine Lahd, toured the security zone in south to convey wishes of their government in the occasion of Eid El Fitre. Lubrani said "whoever believes that an accident like the mid air helicopters collision would stop us from executing what we believe in, is wrong. The Israeli government is still determined to stay in the border zone and to combat the terrorism until a settlement is reached with Lebanon and Syria, that would include the conditions we have stated in the past. We have lost many souls but if we bow to the pressures we would be loosing an even greater number in the future. Hoped that the peace negotiations with Lebanon and Syria to resume in the near future. The "terrorist" attacks aimed at hampering and disrupting the peace process". He reiterated that "Israel has no claims in Lebanon's territorial or waters, but the fact is that Lebanon linked and attached to Syria". Gen. Amitai also said that Israel will not budge from the south before a peace is achieved. He said the Israeli government decision is to remain in south and ensures its northern border's security. For the SLA commander, he said he wishes that Israel withdraw "only after the security on both sides of the borders is achieved". He added that " the prior condition to the Israeli withdrawal is ensuring the human rights and the security of the inhabitants of the security zone, and the Lebanese officials should commit themselves to that matter first before the Israeli army pulls out.
The Israeli defense minister said Israel will not stand idle and it will strike whenever need to be, and its sufficient to see the post raided by the air force fighters to realise that Lebanon could become a stage of military escalations and confrontations. He was hinting that the raids were close to the Syrian borders. The Israeli prime minister, scheduled to go to Washington today, toured his army positions in the security zone Feb 11. He said'" A halt to the terrorist attacks in Lebanon is not a pre condition to resume the peace talks with Syria. We reject the attempts by Syria to impose preconditions for resuming the talks so there is no reason for us to set any". He also said " It is natural that no progress can be made in the peace negotiations as long Syria is waging a war by proxy against Israel". If the Israeli army is not here blocking the terrorists, they will come right to the fence and even try to cross the fence to attack our towns and villages in north Israel, Netanyahu said. He appealed to Syria to act firmly and directly to stop the terrorist activities in south, and opposed a unilateral withdrawal. He said there is no alternative to the Israeli military presence in south Lebanon. The Israeli Chief of Staff who accompanied Natanyahu said ' he can see no reason why Israel should change its positions in Lebanon or to expand the security zone or to pull out. The Israeli media renewed its reports over the Iranian arms shipments to Hizbullah, adding that Hizbullah and Iranian officials met recently in the Bekaa to discuss mounting attacks against the security zone and more military assistance from Iran.
Nine Lebanese detainees from the concentration camp at Khiam were released during the past two days in the occasion of El Fitre. The SLA commander ordered the release. 8 more detainees were released at the beginning of Ramadan, but there are reported 200 detainees remain there.
The Lebanese education minister Jean Obeid issued a directive to the public and private high schools yesterday saying "the educators should give the topic of the resistance sufficient attention, and designate one hour on Feb 18 to explain to the students the patriotic goals and meanings of the resistance.
25 US congressmen and women, in a letter to secretary of state Madeleine Albright on Monday, urged her to protest against what they called "increased human rights abuses in Lebanon". The group said it supported the international development assistance programme of the Friends of Lebanon forum, but urged Albright to take all the "necessary steps to ensure that our assistance is not channelled through the Syrian dominated Lebanese government and, thus, does not fall in wrong hands".
Prime minister Rafic Hariri held yesterday talks with French P.Jacques Chirac in Paris. He told the reporters that " France opposes a unilateral Israeli withdrawal and instead it supports the Lebanese demand for a comprehensive peace settlement". He also said "France has no intention to participate in an operation that could impede the peace process and sending French troops to Lebanon is not an issue at the moment". P.Chirac quoted saying " the peace negotiations between Lebanon,Syria and Israel should resume on the basis of the land for peace principle".
The foreign minister Fares Boueiz, who held separate talks with his French counterpart yesterday, said before leaving Beirut Monday that the peace negotiations is not expected to resume unless Israel accepts the Madrid principles, including the land for peace formula, and that stipulates the Israeli withdrawal from the Golan heights and south Lebanon. France's foreign minister Herve de Charette said his government received no official information about the Israeli proposal "Lebanon First" or its plan for a unilateral troop withdrawal from Lebanon. He was quoted saying "France see that the proposal is unacceptable". Mr Boueiz also said he discussed with counterpart the function and mechanism of the ceasefire monitoring committee and its future. Both foreign ministers also discussed the second round of the Barcelona conference, which will be held in Malta on April 25, designed to expand cooperation between the European Union and states in the Mediterranean including Israel. The foreign ministers of Lebanon, Syria and Israel will attend the conference same as in the first round held in 1995.
While israel's prime minister leaves to Washington today, news in Beirut said Syria is intending to call for an Arab summit sometime mid this year in a bid to pursue the Arab inter reconciliations and to stand for the Israeli pressures.
The question now is what Mr Netanyahu is going to suggest in Washington, and is it possible to say that the air raids against the targets in Lebanon yesterday indicate that Israel took the option of the military escalation instead of going out of the mini Vietnam of south Lebanon.
Speaker Nabih Berri said yesterday he categorically rejects resettling the Palestinians in Lebanon, and considers that the right of return for them is sacred and should work to achieve it, adding that this stand is not subject to any compromise or discussion. Mr Berri was speaking to over 100 Palestinian dignitaries from the refugee camps in south. He discussed with the visiting delegation the problems they are facing in their camps, namely the decline of social and health services by the UNRWA, also the possibility to allow them to work as free enterprisers, and the review of the law imposing prior entry visas for the Palestinians wishing to enter to Lebanon.
Mr Berri also quoted saying" the humanitarian support and the development of the camps is the responsibility and the duty of the Lebanese government. He told the visitors that "its in the interest of the Palestinians to cling to their right of return and the Palestinian identity." The Palestinian delegation were among well wishers in the occasion of Eid El Fitre. Mr Berri also quoted saying the Lebanese army will not enter to the camps at this phase and such decision needs certain political circumstances.
An official mass sermon was held Sunday in Beirut St Maron church at Gemayzeh by Archbishop Boulos Mattar in the presence of P.Hrawi and his wife. The Speaker Nabih Berri did not attend and the prime minister Rafic Hariri apologized. The first due to Eid El Fitre and his obligations in Musseileh in South and the second for travelling to Paris. The usual tradition here is that the three join together at this occasion. P.Hrawi did not send congratulations to the speaker in the El Fitre occasion.
In an apparent stand related to the proposed constitutional amendments, Archbishop Mattar said" the constitution should stem from the people according to the society's collective spirit. No constitution should be copied or be imported from outside. The constitution should be occasionally revised to match up with the needs of the national conciliation which reinforces the unity of the Lebanese. There are painful wounds in the body of Lebanon that is the south and the mountain's displaced. It is impossible to have a country that fulfills its role and mission also secures its citizens' rights without creating a state committed to the progress and development".
Cardinal Sfair's mass sermon was at Bkerke where he said " we failed to create a society and regulate it on the solid basis such as solidarity, justice and equal opportunities. We were not able to avoid the violation of the laws, or destroying the environment, or squandering the public money and neglect the moral principles". The St Maron day was also celebrated allover Lebanon and in the Chuf, also in Cyprus where the Maronite community marked the event in a mass in Nicosia.
The parliament deputy speaker Elie Firzli said yesterday the Maronites are essential for the survival of Lebanon, and the Synod on Lebanon is far more comprehensive in its humanitarian outlook than anything else produced locally. He said the Synod explained the church's views on economical, social, political, educational, and clerical issues and the most important is the relationship between the church and the society. He also said the Maronite community played major role in preserving and safeguarding the identity of Lebanon.
The Minister of the displaced affairs Walid Jumblat and his wife were hosted at a launch by P.Hrawi at Baabda palace. The step marks what could be a rapprochement between the two following the sharp critics of Mr Jumblat against the president. The reports said the two major topics discussed at the meeting were the critics of Mr Jumblat and the issue of settling the Druze Sheikh Akel case.
The National Fund for the Displaced said yesterday that only shortage of money is blamed for the crisis of the repatriation. The Fund's V.P Abdel Hamid Nasser said the 64 billion L.L allocated in the 197 budget is insufficient, recalling that the fund had asked for 625 billions. Minister Walid Jumblat has asked for a special bill that could ensure steady financial resources.
The Chuf deputy Nabil Bustani has proposed that the non-Lebanese to pay a 10 per cent tax on the ad-hoc business transactions carried out inside Lebanon. Bustani says the foreigners buy and sell properties here and take out the profits they make so why not to impose such tax, which would be the only way to finally settle the issue of displacement and the repatriation, otherwise, if we depend only on the allocations in the budget the matter will take six or more years. The PSP led by Mr Junblat has asked Monday the government to adopt the draft bill, in order to provide the stable financing.
The Muslim Shiite religious leaders celebrated the Eid El Fitre on Sunday. Sheikh Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine said in his address that "the leaders should realise their role and responsibility in order to restore a healthy, just and balanced political life. The projected state is passing through an unsurprising crisis and the reason is in its structure. Putting an emphasis on the importance of separating the politics from the public administration".
The Mufti Abdel Amir Kabalan called for the rise of the state of justice and institutions. Allamah Fadlallah said the country can be stable when the dialogue is practiced, and the opposition and the government should be complementary. He warned of the current talking on a duplicate Vietnam in south Lebanon.
The Nejmeh and the Syrian Tishrin soccer teams scored equal goals in their friendly match played yesterday at the Burj Hammoud stadium in the third commemoration of the late Bassel El Assad. The 3-3 goals match was performed before some 12 thousand audience.
The Safa soccer team won the Homenmen with 4-2 goals at the Safa stadium in Musseitbeh in a friendly match.
Lebanon basketball cup for 1997:
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