Rockets Force Israelis to Take Shelter : Mideast: Thousands are ordered to safety as Hezbollah strikes from Lebanon. Peres warns Syrians to rein in militants.


Tens of thousands of Israelis were ordered into bomb shelters Tuesday after waves of Katyusha rockets fired by guerrillas from southern Lebanon injured eight people in the northern town of Kiryat Shemona.

The rockets began to fall on northern Israel as parents were taking their children to school Tuesday morning. Children were hustled into shelters and classes were canceled.

Rockets smashed into homes and cars and knocked down power lines. Hospitals and neighborhood clinics reported cases of only minor injuries from shrapnel, but dozens of people suffered from shock.

Israel responded with air raids on Katyusha launching sites and pounded Lebanese villages north of Israel’s so-called security zone in southern Lebanon with hundreds of shells. Prime Minister Shimon Peres made an unannounced visit to Kiryat Shemona in the afternoon and warned Lebanon, Syria and the Shiite Muslim militant organization Hezbollah that the attacks must stop.


“We regard with grave severity the events,” Peres said at a news conference. “We can tell by the targets and the time of the attack that the goal of the Hezbollah was to hit people, to kill.”

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the shelling and said it was retaliating because of the Israeli army’s demolition of several Lebanese homes in recent days and the Israeli navy’s refusal to allow Lebanese to fish off the southern Lebanese coast.

Peres said Hezbollah violated an agreement brokered two years ago by the United States, in which each side promised to refrain from firing on the other’s civilians.

The prime minister said Israel has passed a message through Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the Syrians, warning them to rein in Hezbollah. With 30,000 troops in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, Syria controls the supply routes for Hezbollah.

“We see a great contradiction between the calls for peace and the firing of these Katyushas,” Peres said. “They do not go together and they cannot.”

At a Mediterranean economic conference in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, the Israeli and Syrian foreign ministers exchanged public reaffirmations of their willingness to negotiate peace. U.S.-brokered peace talks between the two enemies have been stalled for months, but U.S. envoy Dennis Ross is expected in the region next week to try to restart them.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, when the Palestine Liberation Organization fielded a guerrilla army in southern Lebanon and regularly fired Katyusha rockets at northern Israeli communities and sent guerrillas on cross-border attacks. Israel’s narrow security zone, patrolled by about 1,000 Israeli soldiers and their allies, the mostly Christian South Lebanese Army, is the last remnant of that invasion.

Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, says its goal is to drive Israel out of Lebanon entirely. Hezbollah guerrillas have inflicted dozens of casualties on Israeli soldiers this year, but Israeli officials say their forces will stay in Lebanon until the Lebanese government disarms Hezbollah and signs a peace agreement with Israel.

Before he was assassinated on Nov. 4, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ruled out any large-scale invasion of Lebanon, saying such a move would lead to heavy loss of life on both sides. Peres is expected to follow Rabin’s course of selectively hitting at guerrilla targets rather than pouring huge numbers of Israeli soldiers into Lebanon and risking more Israeli casualties.

Also on Tuesday, some 200 Israeli soldiers attacked a Palestinian home in the village of Deir Samet near the southern West Bank town of Hebron, killing a man that an army spokesman described as the last Hamas guerrilla wanted in the Hebron area.

Abdel Karim Masalmeh reportedly was shot to death when he emerged from the house after soldiers fired antitank rockets into it. Hamas, a militant Islamic organization, has vowed to torpedo the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Hamas has carried out a series of suicide attacks on Israelis since the September, 1993, initial peace accord was signed but is now negotiating with the PLO to participate in upcoming Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel is in the process of pulling out of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank but is not due to complete its pullout from the Hebron area until the end of March.