- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2003

SHLOMI, Israel — Israeli warplanes attacked suspected Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon yesterday, hours after shells fired by the group killed a 16-year-old and wounded five others in northern Israel, including an infant.

The boy was the first civilian killed in an attack by the guerrilla group in a cross-border attack since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in May 2000, officials said.

The attacks marked a surge in border violence following months of calm, raising fears of wider conflict with Syria and Lebanon. Earlier yesterday, Israel’s foreign minister warned those countries to restrain Hezbollah, or “we will have no choice but to defend ourselves.”

Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, however, that Israel is trying to avoid an escalation and would try to resolve the situation through diplomatic channels.

Also yesterday, Mr. Sharon told his Cabinet that the U.S.-backed plan for Palestinian statehood would not move ahead until the Palestinians carry out their pledge to dismantle militant groups. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said later that Palestinian security forces weren’t doing enough to stop attacks.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat said it is Israel, not the Palestinians, failing to live up to commitments.

The cross-border fighting began this month. On Friday, Hezbollah, a militant Lebanese group backed by Syria and Iran, fired artillery toward Israeli border posts, drawing return fire. It was the first such exchange in eight months.

Hezbollah said the shelling was in retaliation for the Aug. 2 killing of Hezbollah security official Ali Hussein Saleh by a bomb in his car south of Beirut. Israel refused to comment on the claim that it was behind the killing.

The guerrilla group also fired antiaircraft shells Saturday on Kiryat Shemona, but no injuries were reported.

Yesterday, 16-year-old Haviv Dadon was walking home from a summer job when he was hit by the antitank shell fired on the northern town of Shlomi. Five bystanders, including a woman and her 9-month-old son, were lightly injured, hospital officials said. At the teen’s funeral, mourners said they felt abandoned by the government.

One shell exploded near a preschool and another hit near a shopping center, said the mayor, Gavriel Naaman. Video footage showed patches of blood left on a concrete staircase.

The town’s streets were deserted last night, with residents staying in their homes or in bomb shelters. “We are very afraid,” said resident Lara Elhai, 50. “Any moment, they could shoot at us. It’s the summer holidays, and we can’t even send our children to the pool.”

The last civilian death in such an attack along the northern Israeli border happened June 24, 1999, when a Hezbollah rocket struck Kiryat Shemona’s city hall, killing two men.

In response to the latest death, Israeli warplanes fired at least one missile near the village of Teir Harfa, about two miles from the Lebanese-Israeli border. There was no immediate word on casualties.

A senior Israeli security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the warplanes hit the Hezbollah artillery positions that fired at Shlomi.

Hezbollah said it fired antiaircraft shells at Israeli fighter jets flying over southern Lebanon, but Israeli security officials denied aircraft were in the area at the time.

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