SLUG: 2-293528 Israel / Lebanona (L)
TITLE=ISRAEL / LEBANON (L ONLY)
INTRO: Israel has called on the United States to help prevent an escalation of violence along the border with Lebanon. Ross Dunn in Jerusalem reports the appeal follows an attack against Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern frontier.
TEXT: Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer accuses Syria and Lebanon of playing with fire on the northern border of the Jewish State.
He was reacting to an attack Thursday by the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which injured three Israeli soldiers.
He raised the issue in talks with visiting U-S envoy David Satterfield, saying that any escalation of the violence in the area could destabilize the region and affect American plans for ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Syria has about 30-thousand troops based inside Lebanon and is the country's main power broker. It also supplies arms to the Hezbollah.
Mr. Ben-Eliezer says he is concerned that the latest attack is effectively a warning that Syria and the Hezbollah would try to open up a new zone of conflict along the northern border, in order to pre-empt a possible American strike against Iraq.
Syria, under the leadership of former President Hafez Assad, was opposed to Iraq during the Gulf War. However, a change in policy has been noted since his son Basher took over as president, and strategic analysts believe that Syria has been developing closer ties with Iraq.
According to Israeli media reports, Mr. Satterfield says he will take up the issue in talks with Syrian officials.
He reportedly rejected the claim that the Syrians would risk a confrontation with the United States by deliberately disrupting U-S plans for a possible strike against Iraq.
At the same time, he said he is concerned that continued attacks by the Hezbollah might provoke Israel into retaliating against Syrian targets. (Signed)
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