Israeli tanks and artillery massed at the northern border Friday, poised to enter Lebanon after new rocket attacks by Islamic militants. Thousands of Lebanese fled the border region.
The escalating tension, ignited by an Israeli air raid Thursday on a base for Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, could break a 10-month cease-fire and hinder Middle East peace talks. The raid, which killed as many as 50 guerrillas and civilians, was Israel's deadliest blow in nearly a year.Tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the border spent the night in shelters as Shiite Muslim guerrillas fired Katyusha rockets at northern Israel and Israeli troops shot back with howitzers. Israeli jets swooped low over southern Lebanon Friday, shaking villages with thunderous sonic booms.
Lebanese army units fired anti-aircraft guns at Israeli aircraft, but no hits were reported.
U.N. spokesman Timur Goksel reported that Lebanese civilians were streaming northward from a half-dozen villages in fear of a major flare-up in combat.
Goksel also said one Hezbollah guerrilla was killed and two Fijian peacekeepers were wounded in three firefights in southern Lebanon. The United Nations has a 5,250-soldier peacekeeping force in the region.
Dozens of Katyusha rockets hit across northern Israel but caused no casualties or serious damage. One missile started a brush fire in eastern Galilee, but the blaze was quickly put out, Israel's army radio said.
Lebanese police said up to 50 people were killed and 200 wounded by the air raid Thursday on a Hezbollah training camp near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah said 26 guerrillas died and 40 were wounded in the attack by six Israeli fighter-bombers and four helicopter gunships.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, about 100 Islamic activists protesting the air raid threw rocks at about 30 Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets. A leaflet from the militant Islamic movement Hamas vowed to avenge the Lebanese guerrillas.
Lebanese President Elias Hrawi denounced the air raid as a massacre. He called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.