TURA, Lebanon — Guerrilla fighters opposing Israeli troops in southern Lebanon will continue their attacks if Israel goes ahead with plans to control a "security zone" north of the Israel-Lebanon border using an Israeli-backed local militia, according to Lebanese resistance leaders.
And if the Israelis mount cross-border attacks after most of their troops withdraw from Lebanon, the Shia Muslim-led resistance will respond against northern Israeli towns or "anywhere Israel has people," two regional leaders of Amal, the principal Shia Muslim political and military organization, said in separate interviews.
"We have the right to govern the last millimeter of our land," said Dr. Ali Jaber, a physician and Amal political leader in the south. Referring to the Israeli-backed Lebanese militia known as the South Lebanon Army, headed by Gen. Antoine Lahad, Amal militia leader Mohammed Harkoush commented, "We have to fight Lahad's people because (theirs) is the face of Israel."
Most Specific Warning
The warnings, believed to be the most specific yet by Muslim resistance leaders in the south, added to concern that Israel's announced withdrawal from Lebanon will not end hostilities along the border.
The Israel Defense Forces are in the midst of the second stage of the planned pullout, and Israeli government ministers are scheduled to consider the last phase this Sunday in a vital debate that will also concern final plans for the security zone.
When the Israeli Cabinet on Jan. 14 approved the three-stage withdrawal, it stated that in the final phase "the IDF will deploy along the Israeli-Lebanese international border while maintaining a zone in southern Lebanon where local forces (the South Lebanon Army) will operate with IDF backing."
But as the date for the final withdrawal approaches--it is now expected to take place by late May or early June--some Israeli military experts are beginning to question the whole concept as possibly inviting continued friction with the predominantly Muslim local population of southern Lebanon.
Military sources have said that at least some plainclothes Israelis, and possibly as many as several hundred "advisers," could remain north of the border after the rest of the troops pull out. They would almost certainly be targets for continuing resistance.
Hotbeds of Resistance
But the comments of the resistance leaders indicates that there will be trouble even if only the South Lebanon Army remains behind. A day this week spent touring Shia Muslim villages east of Tyre, which have been hotbeds of resistance to the Israeli occupation, underlined the growing sense of uncertainty and tension in the area as the withdrawal proceeds.
In Tyre, most shops were closed and the electricity was out. Repairmen are afraid to go to the source of the electrical problem because it is in an area that has been the scene of frequent clashes. Two dozen people lined up at a local station filling cans with scarce kerosene, which is used for heating and cooking.
On the coastal highway south of Tyre, huge flatbed trucks, heading back toward Israel in an army convoy, strained under the weight of dismantled watchtowers and giant blocks of concrete that had been used to fortify Israeli positions further north. "Stop! Border Ahead" said a sign still affixed to one block, which had been part of fortifications at the Qasmiyeh Bridge marking the northernmost point of Israel's current occupation line in the area.
Mounds of dirt have replaced the concrete slabs at positions the Israelis have not yet abandoned. At a nondescript apartment in Tura, residents spoke through walkie-talkies to lookouts posted around the village as Harkoush spoke through an interpreter with visiting journalists.
Watching for Israelis
A woman covered except for her face in a chador was introduced as the village's "coordinator of communications." And two teen-age girls kept watch on the northern edge of town through large, military-style binoculars for any sign of approaching Israeli troops.
Tura has been hit three times under Israel's "iron fist" policy of reprisal raids against southern Lebanese villages believed to be staging areas for attacks against Israeli troops. Harkoush said eight people have been killed in those raids, and 15 residents are still being held prisoner by the Israelis.
According to Israeli and U.N. reports, six Tura residents were killed and seven wounded during Israeli raids last Dec. 13, Feb. 23 and March 15. A badly damaged two-story building stood in the center of town as a mute reminder of one of those raids. A slab of concrete dangled by reinforcing rods where a missing corner of the house once stood. And a picture of Sami Haider, a local Amal leader killed by the Israelis, hung on the exposed second-floor wall of what was apparently once a living room.
Rocks, tires, and pieces of scrap metal used to erect roadblocks against approaching Israeli troops were beside the potholed road on the southern edge of town.