Israel Again Shells Sites in Lebanon : Mideast: One target is reportedly a base for Iranian-backed guerrillas opposed to peace talks.


Israel shelled targets in southern Lebanon on Saturday for the fifth successive day, according to reports from the area, apparently in response to attacks by guerrillas last week that killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded six.

Lebanese sources in Israel's "security zone" in south Lebanon also said the Israeli army had issued warnings with loudspeakers and leaflets to Lebanese villagers in the vicinity of Kfar Roummane near Nabatiyeh to leave their homes or risk being shelled and bombed.

The Israeli military command denied that its forces had ordered villagers to evacuate the area to avoid attack.

"The Israeli army did not call on residents to evacuate their villages," said a statement issued after a day of charges and counterclaims here.

But the Israeli Defense Ministry's statement said the army would do whatever is necessary to protect its northern border against incursions from guerrillas in Lebanon.

"Israel must guarantee security along the northern border, especially in light of the Lebanese army's failure to prevent Hezbollah's terrorist activities," the army statement said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami said that the United States had asked Israel to shelve plans for aggressive military action in the area because of the Mideast peace talks in Madrid.

Kfar Roummane, according to Israeli sources, is a center of activity for guerrillas of Hezbollah (Party of God), an Iranian-backed, Lebanese Shiite Muslim fundamentalist group that has condemned the peace talks.

Israeli sources said Hezbollah guerrillas were responsible for the attack on an Israeli army patrol earlier in the week.

Hundreds of villagers from Kfar Roummane were reported to have fled in a long motorcade, fearful of a heavy Israeli air and artillery attack. By midafternoon Saturday, the town was deserted, according to accounts from southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese army reportedly reinforced its troops Saturday in the vicinity.

In Jerusalem, it was not clear whether the Israeli denial applied only to its own troops or also those of the South Lebanon Army, a mainly Christian military organization supported by the Israeli government.

Some reports said the SLA broadcast a message Saturday saying the Israelis wanted people cleared out of about 100 villages near the northern edge of the "security zone."

In the past, according to diplomatic observers here, the Israelis have denied knowledge or complicity with operations of the SLA and have blamed the SLA for certain military attacks.

The SLA and Israeli forces operate in a "security zone" that ranges up to 10 miles inside southern Lebanon and has been the subject of controversy between Jerusalem and Beirut. Lebanon, backed by Syria, insists that Israeli forces must withdraw from all of southern Lebanon.

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