On April 28, for the first time, Israel intervened directly on the side of the Falange forces of northern Lebanon. Two Israeli F-5 fighter-bombers shot down tow Syrian helicopters near the town of Zahle. There were also reports -- denied by Israel -- that Israeli planes had attacked Syrian ground positions in the vicinity. This followed two days of heavy Israeli shelling of southern Lebanon and persistent shelling in Beirut, Monitor correspondent John Yemma reports. Palestinian forces, which up to now have been relatively removed from the essentially Syrian-Falangist conflict, appeared to be drawn in.
The Israeli attack has alarmed Western diplomats who see it as open-ended (unlike the periodic Syrian-Israeli aerial dogfights over Lebanon) and say Syria now may be forced to respond directly against Israel or to step up i ts military commitment in Lebanon.