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US Condemns Hezbollah Attacks on Israeli Army Posts


The United States has renewed calls on Syria and Lebanon to restrain Hezbollah guerrillas after attacks by the pro-Iranian group on Israeli army posts at a disputed enclave near the Israel-Lebanese border. The State Department called the Hezbollah action a "provocative escalation" of the border situation.

The Hezbollah mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms enclave shattered seven months of calm in the tense region, and spurred U.S. diplomatic appeals to both Syria and Lebanon to reign-in the guerrilla group.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker condemned the violent outbreak and said it is in the interests of Syria and Lebanon to maintain the peace in the area.

"We have made clear to Lebanon and Syria our serious concern over this calculated and provocative escalation by Hezbollah," he said. "And we've stressed the importance of maximum restraint to prevent any further attacks."

Mr. Reeker said the U.S. concerns were raised with officials in Damascus and Beirut soon after the attacks.

The Israeli army kept control of the Shebaa Farms, on the slopes of Mount Hermon, when it withdrew from southern Lebanon three years ago.

The small enclave was captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War, but it is now claimed by Lebanon with Syrian support.

Israel responded to Friday's attacks with artillery fire and air strikes against suspected Hezbollah positions.

The violence came less than a week after Hezbollah blamed Israel for the car bombing in Beirut that killed a Hezbollah activist.

The United States has made a major diplomatic effort to keep the peace along the Israeli-Lebanese border as it pursues the international "road map" for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It wants Lebanon to put its security forces in charge of the immediate border area where Hezbollah has had a virtual free reign since the Israeli withdrawal, and it wants Syria to sever supply links from Iran to Hezbollah.

At a Washington news conference Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell again said Syria should stop playing host to groups opposed to the Middle East peace process, and he added it "should not be participating" in any trans-shipment of weapons or other material to Hezbollah.

Mr. Powell said the United States is "still not satisfied" with Syria's performance on those issues and has been communicating this to Damascus on a regular basis.