- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 21 (UPI) — A Lebanese civilian was wounded Tuesday in an Israeli bombing that targeted a village close to the border with Israel, Lebanese security sources said.

The Israeli army said the shelling was in response to a mortar attack by Hezbollah guerrillas on an Israeli position in the Golan Heights.

Israel retaliated with tank, artillery and later attack helicopter fire. There were no Israeli casualties and no damage in the fortified position, the Israeli army spokesman said.

A statement by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas said they fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades on the Israeli posts on Mount Dov in the southern Golan Heights and three Israeli soldiers were wounded. However, there was no confirmation of casualties from Israeli sources.

Control of the area is disputed, with Israel saying that it was not included in the withdrawal agreement from south Lebanon in 2000, but was taken earlier from Syria.

In a swift retaliation, Israeli warplanes flew sorties over South Lebanon, targeting locations close to the Lebanese village of Kfar Shouba.

This was the first such attack by Hezbollah since Aug. 29 when an Israeli soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a similar attack on the disputed Shabaa region.

Israeli military sources have been concerned that the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah may try to take advantage of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq to attack Israel.

An Israeli military statement blamed Lebanon for allowing Hezbollah to operate out of areas under full Lebanese security control. The Lebanese government and the Syrians, who are the real power brokers in Beirut, "are fully responsible for attempting to escalate the situation in the Mt. Dov sector," the statement said.

Military sources recently told reporters Israel was making plans for a forceful retaliation if Hezbollah cross-border fire hurts civilians.

Hezbollah has repeatedly promised harsh and swift retaliation if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon takes advantage of the war on Iraq to attack Lebanon and the group's bases.

Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, forced Israeli forces out of Lebanon after an occupation of 22 years. Israel withdrew to the Blue Line marked by U.N. surveyors.


(Joshua Brilliant contributed to this report from Tel Aviv, Israel)

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