Israel strikes south Lebanon

Israeli artillery yesterday shelled three Shiite villages in south Lebanon in response to Wednesday's suicide car-bomb attack by Hizbullah that killed seven Israeli soldiers, Radio Free Lebanon reported. Shiite militiamen were reportedly moving south toward the Israeli security zone, even as civilians fled north in anticipation of a retaliatory strike. ``Israel's just and secure hand will reach the killers, each and every one of them,'' Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir warned. His words were echoed by other top Israeli leaders.

Eight Israeli soldiers and two Lebanese women were wounded by the bomb that exploded between two convoys of Israeli vehicles. It was the first major attack by Hizbullah since the Iranian-backed group was expelled from southern Lebanon last spring by another Shiite militia, Amal, and the first successful car-bomb attack in two years.

All day yesterday troops of the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army conducted house-to-house searches in Shiite villages in the six-to-10 mile wide zone, which was established after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 1985.

But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected suggestions that Israel fence off the northern border of the security zone.

``If we did so, we would have to establish a military government and ostensibly annex the security zone to the state of Israel,'' Mr. Rabin said.

``Such a move is inconceivable, both from a political and military standpoint,'' he said.

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