In a bloody day that underscored the remaining obstacles to Middle East peace, six Israeli soldiers were killed and another was seriously wounded Sunday in an ambush by Iranian-backed guerrillas in southern Lebanon.
The dawn attack - launched when an Israeli patrol truck ran over a powerful explosive charge - was the deadliest this year in the border zone of southern Lebanon occupied by Israeli troops. It came after a similar bombing assault in the same area Thursday which killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded ix.
The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, or Party of God, claimed responsibility for the attacks. In a radio broadcast from Lebanon, Hezbollah said the strikes represented an escalation of its efforts to scuttle the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The two attacks brought the number of Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon this year to 22, more than in all of 1994 when 21 died, according to the Israeli army.
In response, Israeli artillery shelled suspected guerrilla strongholds and combat jets flew over the area. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called an emergency session of the cabinet for Tuesday to consider further reprisals after the Jewish holiday Monday of Simhat Torah.
“The escalation in Lebanon is very dangerous to all sides,” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said.
The attack, near the village of Aishiyeh, is likely to further sour prospects for a breakthrough in long-stalled peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.
Israeli leaders claim Syria, as the main power broker in Lebanon, could stem he flow of arms to Hezbollah and pressure the guerrillas to halt their attacks. Israel established its “security zone” nine miles deep across Lebanon’s southern border in 1985 to shield its northern towns from cross-border raids and missile attacks.