JERUSALEM — Israeli troops killed a Lebanese, arrested 17 others and destroyed three houses in a major sweep through the village of Maarake in southern Lebanon on Saturday, prompting Shia Muslim leader Nabih Berri to warn in Beirut that any more such raids will bring retaliation against settlements in northern Israel.
Berri's threat was believed to be the first against Israel's civilian population since the beginning of large-scale Shia resistance to the occupation of the region, and it came on the eve of a scheduled Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that is expected to consider a timetable for the second stage of Israel's announced three-phase withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon.
Aimed at PLO
It was expressly to end Palestine Liberation Organization attacks on its northern settlements that Israel invaded Lebanon in June, 1982, and any new attacks on them by militant Shia Muslims would undoubtedly send political and social shock waves throughout Israel.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres' Cabinet approved the three-phase troop pullout plan in principle on Jan. 14, and the army completed the first stage on Feb. 16. But instead of declining, the number of guerrilla attacks on Israeli occupation forces has jumped sharply since the withdrawal plan was announced.
A dozen Israeli soldiers have been killed in southern Lebanon since the January withdrawal announcement, and at least 86 have been wounded, according to army figures. Israel has responded with a new "iron fist" policy aimed at southern Lebanese villages considered to be strongholds of the guerrilla resistance.
Shia Muslim villages throughout Israeli-held territory in the south were put under a dusk-to-dawn curfew last week, and military sources here say that in a series of raids during the last 10 days, Israeli troops killed 16 guerrillas, wounded 22 and arrested more than 200. The sources said that a dozen rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 16 anti-tank rockets and a surface-to-air missile were among a huge quantity of arms and ammunition captured.
Most of the raids have concentrated in a group of militant Shia villages east of Tyre--an area that the Israelis call the "arc of resistance" in southern Lebanon.
Village Again a Target
The raid Saturday on Maarake was at least the third on that village, eight miles east of Tyre, in a little over two months. A reported 800 Israeli troops surrounded Maarake at dawn and rounded up all males between the ages of 10 and 70 for questioning by intelligence officers. The operation reportedly involved three tanks and 50 armored personnel carriers.
Independent sources in southern Lebanon said the Lebanese villagers tried to block the advancing troops with barricades of burning tires. However, these were quickly removed by Israeli bulldozers.
Lebanon's national news agency said the operation was directed by Maj. Gen. Ori Orr, head of Israel's northern command.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said one guerrilla was killed while trying to escape.
Village for a Village
In Beirut, Shia Muslim leader Berri said, "We will prove from today that every time Israel hits a southern village, we will hit an Israeli village in the Galilee." Berri heads Amal, the main Shia militia, and also serves as the Lebanese Cabinet minister responsible for southern Lebanon affairs.
The Israeli crackdown has run into criticism both at home and abroad, with opponents arguing that it will only increase the hostility of the large and important Shia sect and increase the danger that the withdrawing Israelis will be attacked across the border, including strikes on civilian targets.
Israeli hard-liners take the opposite view, saying that the continuing guerrilla attacks prove that the withdrawal plan should be changed and that Israeli forces should dig in indefinitely along the Litani River. Such a move would mean the virtual annexation of a large piece of southern Lebanon.
Cabinet to Be Forum
Both arguments are expected to come up in today's Israeli Cabinet debate, when Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin seeks approval to begin the second and most complicated stage of the phased troop withdrawal.
The operation, expected to take three to five months, involves pulling back southward and westward from the Bekaa Valley, where thousands of Israeli troops face the Syrian army across a narrow no man's land in eastern Lebanon.
If all goes according to the Israeli military's plan, the third phase would be completed late this coming summer, leaving only a token Israeli presence north of the border to help an Israeli-backed local militia patrol a 10-mile-deep buffer zone in southern Lebanon.