Two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others wounded last night in a resistance roadside bomb explosion, which also destroyed an Israeli Merkava tank and another armed vehicle near the Israeli position of Blat in the western sector of the occupied zone.
The resistance today claimed responsibility for the attack. The resistance added in a statement seven Israeli soldiers were killed, 11 others wounded and some three Israeli tanks destroyed in resistance operations against Israeli occupying troops in the last 10 days.
This rises to 24 the number of Israeli soldiers killed and to 104 the number of those wounded in South Lebanon since the beginning of this year.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes today carried out air raids over several areas in South Lebanon targeting Lebanese Resistance groups over the valley of Zibkeen. Mock air raids were also carried out over the areas of Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Touffah. In another development, Israeli heavy artillery targeted the Sojod-Rayhan fields originating from the positions in Zaffateh.
As a result of the escalating situation in South Lebanon and the increasing number of casualties among Israeli occupying troops, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning cut short a European tour returning from London to Tel Aviv.
The Israeli Radio today reported Netanyahu will hold a series of political and military consultations with Israeli officials to study necessary steps to be taken to counter the escalation. The Israeli Premier will also head tomorrow a special cabinet meeting to discuss the situation in South Lebanon and evaluate Israeli policy in this regard.
After meeting his British counterpart Tony Blair, Netanyahu described the latest Lebanese resistance operation against Israeli soldiers in the South as very painful. He also told reporters the Israeli army would be discussing a redeployment strategy in South Lebanon.
For its part, the British government urged the Israeli premier before returning to his country to work on implementing UN Resolution 425 which calls for Israel's unconditional and immediate withdrawal from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa.
Israel's Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani said Israel's retaliation against resistance attacks will be violent. Kahalani also threatened Israeli forces would strike water and electricity resources and destroy bridges and constructions in the Lebanese capital whenever an Israeli soldier is killed in the South.
Meanwhile, the Israeli daily Maariv today published a report saying around 40% of Israelis now back a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon with no prior agreement with Lebanon or Syria. The percentage has doubled in a period of six months. However, around 50% of Israelis still voice their objection for any such withdrawal.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai today said his forces will find suitable ways of retaliation and will fight against what he called, terrorists, everywhere.
Mordechai added Israel will in the meantime continue its efforts to reach a political solution to the issue. The Israeli Defense Minister also warned the Lebanese government against supporting the resistance in any way whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Mordechai in the last two days headed several meetings of the Israeli army command. Israeli military officials also inspected today the area in South Lebanon where Israeli troops were attacked.
President Emil Lahhoud this morning held talks over the phone with his Syrian counterpart President Hafez Al-Assad over the escalating situation in South Lebanon.
The two leaders stressed the necessity of continuing coordination between their countries in this regard. Discussions between Lahhoud and Assad also tackled the general situation in the region.
Syrian press today stressed only an unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa would activate the Syrian-Lebanese tracks in the peace process.
President Emil Lahhoud this morning held a second round of parliamentary consultations with MPs to designate the name of the next prime minister. These meetings ended late this afternoon.
Lahhoud is expected to hold further consultations later today with House Speaker Nabih Berri. The new prime minister will then be charged of forming the next cabinet.
Mr. Rafik Al-Hariri is highly expected to head the new government. More than 100 deputies have named Mr. Hariri as the next premier. Deputies Hussein Al-Husseini and Boutros Harb were the only MPs, however, who voted for former Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss. Some other deputies refused to announce their choice.
President Emil Lahhoud today received congratulatory letters from Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sobah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber, Qatari Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and the President of the UAE Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. Lahhoud was also handed similar messages from the kings of Morocco, Sweden, and Holland and the presidents of Ireland, Chile, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Romania, Switzerland, Cyprus, Armenia, and Finland.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is currently on a visit to France, welcomed the election of President Emil Lahhoud as Lebanon's next head of state. He added Lahhoud's election portrays a wide national will in Lebanon. Mubarak said he is now waiting to hear about the next government make-up, expecting that Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri will head the new cabinet.
Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri will inaugurate this evening the 42nd Beirut International Book Fair at EXPO Beirut. Hariri is also scheduled to give a speech on the occasion.
The event is organized by the Arab Cultural Club. Some 130 Lebanese publishing houses and 35 Arab and international others will take part in the fair. Delegates from Britain, Italy, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Syria will also be representing their countries in the event.
More than 100,000 visitors come to the fair every year including a huge number of students and professors who will benefit this year from a 25 to 50% reduction in book prices. The event also includes lectures, conferences music concerts and painting exhibitions. The fair will last until Dec.9th .
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