JERUSALEM — Katyusha rockets rained down on Israel's self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon today in the biggest missile barrage on the area in years.
The Palestine Liberation Organization swiftly denied reports that Yasser Arafat had ordered the rocket offensive in response to U.S. attacks on Iraq.
Israeli military sources said dozens of rockets were fired at the northern settlements of Israel. But the missiles fell short of their targets and no injuries or damages were reported. Israeli troops responded with artillery fire, the sources said.
Witnesses said they saw Palestinian guerrillas set up multi-barreled rocket launchers in an area just north of the south Lebanon buffer strip about nine miles from the Israeli border.
Palestinian sources in Sidon, Lebanon, said Arafat had ordered the assault in response to U.S.-led attacks against Iraq. One source said more than 50 Katyusha rockets were fired by PLO fighters at five northern Israeli settlements at dawn.
Arafat's representative in Lebanon, Zeid Wehbeh, told reporters: "We will retaliate against the attacks on Iraq by hitting areas inside Israel. . . ."
But an Arafat spokesman in Tunis said the PLO chairman had given no instructions to open a front against Israel from Lebanon.
PLO sources in Tunis said Wehbeh had been reprimanded by Arafat for making unauthorized statements in his name.