Shoots Dead Lebanese Christian
(Reuters) 28 May- A Hizbollah fighter shot dead a Christian villager in south Lebanon on Sunday in the first such incident since Israeli forces pulled out of the area last week, security sources said. Further south, Israeli troops guarding their country's northern border fired rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse a crowd of Lebanese civilians, some of whom had stormed into the territory of the Jewish state, witnesses said. At least one civilian was wounded by a bullet while four others suffered minor injuries. Two girls, aged six and eight, and five people were wounded in a land mine explosion between the frontline villages of Kfar Roummane and Arab Salim in south Lebanon, security sources.They said the mine exploded after one of the cars drove over it and the second was nearby.The killing of a Christian by a Hizbollah man in the village of Rmaish raised tension and most residents stayed indoors.
Security sources said Jeryous al-Hajj, 50, died in hospital after he was shot in the stomach when villagers marched toward Hizbollah gunmen in the village. Another villager, 25-year-old George Assaf, was wounded, they said. Accounts of the incident were confused but a police statement said its forces arrested the man who had fired from a pistol at Hajj after ``an individual dispute.'' Hizbollah sources in the south confirmed the gunman belonged to the group, but a spokesman in Beirut denied any links. Hizbollah, which fought to bring an end the 22-year-long Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, sought to reassure residents that they had nothing to fear from the guerrillas. In the mainly Christian Lebanese village of Qlaiaa, Hizbollah's deputy chief, Sheikh Naeem Qassem, and Hizbollah MP Mohammad Raed met Maronite Father Mansour al-Hkayim who had earlier called off Sunday mass at his Saint George Church.
``He who attacks the residents of Qlaiaa, attacks Hizbollah and he who violates the people of the south, violates the resistance,'' Raed told a crowd outside the church. Raed later emerged to say the Maronite mass would be held, and the church bell tolled. Some 200 people attended. Hkayim had earlier said there would be no service for the first time in 100 years because of lack of security ``in our streets and homes.'' Qlaiaa and a cluster of Christian villages are in an area taken over by Hizbollah and other Muslim and leftist guerrillas in the wake of Israel's withdrawal this week and the collapse of its Christian-led South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia.
Fears of Hizbollah retribution have so far proved unfounded, but several thefts have been reported in the mainly Christian villages. Qlaiaa was a center of support for the SLA and half of its population has fled to Israel. The Lebanese government said it was sending police into the area and diplomats reported that military intelligence personnel were also in the former Israeli zone. The Beirut authorities were waiting for official U.N. verification that Israel had completely withdrawn to the international border before deciding whether to send army troops to the south to aid U.N. peacekeepers. On the border about 20 civilians, hurling stones and waving flags of Hizbollah, defied requests from U.N. observers to stay back, pushing up to the defunct crossing of Fatma Gate and even crossing a few yards into Israeli territory.
Thousands of men, women and children flocked to Fatma Gate on Sunday to celebrate Israel's pullback, some of them jeering at Israeli border troops and tossing stones and debris at the Israeli side of the border. A U.N. team of soldiers, military advisers and cartographers continued their work with the Israeli side on Sunday. U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli officials. He said in a statement before leaving Beirut that he was pleased by progress toward verifying Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon and appealed for unconditional support by all parties to see peace secured. The U.N. peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, has been examining the frontier to ensure there are no remaining Israeli violations. Larsen was due to return to Beirut following his meeting with Barak in Israel. Barak said on Sunday Israel would not give up the Shebaa Farms claimed by Lebanon, despite a warning from Hizbollah guerrillas that they will fight on until the slice of territory is handed over.
Hizbollah, Lebanon and its political master Syria insist the rocky Shebaa Farms at the foot of the Golan Heights is Lebanese. Israel captured the territory from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and rejects Lebanon's claim to sovereignty. The United Nations has said the Shebaa area falls inside Syrian land occupied by Israel.