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Israel Retaliates Over Hezbollah Attack in Shebaa Farms - 2003-01-21


Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon have attacked Israeli military positions in a disputed border area, provoking swift Israeli retaliation.

Police officials in Lebanon say Hezbollah guerrillas fired mortar shells and rockets at Israeli positions in the border area known as Shebaa Farms. Israeli military officials confirm the attack and say the army responded with artillery fire and air strikes at suspected guerrilla positions.

Hezbollah periodically shells the Shebaa Farms area, generally provoking swift Israeli retaliation and stern warnings to Hezbollah and its backers in neighboring Syria. The border area had been quiet for the past several months.

Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May, 2000, ending almost two decades of occupation. But, Israeli troops remain in the Shebaa Farms area, a sliver of land that Lebanon claims.

Hezbollah and Lebanon say that Israel has not fully withdrawn from Lebanese territory. Israel says the area belongs to Syria and is part of land captured during the 1967 Mideast war. The United Nations agrees that Shebaa Farms is Syrian land and that its return must be negotiated between Israel and Syria.

Meanwhile, an American congressman is in Beirut to ask Lebanese leaders to intercede with Hezbollah. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa is urging Hezbollah to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to see four Israelis captured by the guerillas in 2000.

Hezbollah abducted three Israeli soldiers on patrol along the Lebanese border and also claims responsibility for abducting a colonel in the Israeli reserves. Israel believes the three soldiers are dead.

Hezbollah refuses to confirm the fate of the trio, but has insisted that the abducted colonel is alive. The guerrilla group says it is ready to disclose more information in exchange for the release of Lebanese and Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Congressman Issa says he has asked Israeli officials to allow the Red Cross to visit Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.

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