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Hezbollah Ambush Kills 3 Israeli Soldiers in South Lebanon : Mideast: Foreign minister calls on Syria to control guerrillas. Attack is bloodiest this year in security zone.

October 14, 1995|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Three Israeli soldiers died and six others were wounded in southern Lebanon in the bloodiest attack this year by Hezbollah guerrillas, the Israeli army announced Friday.

After the ambush of an army convoy in Israel's self-declared security zone, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called on Syrian President Hafez Assad to control the guerrillas.

Syria is the main powerbroker in Lebanon.

"It is clear we have a problem with Syria," Peres told Israel Radio, adding that he doubted Assad will do anything to stop the attacks.

Many Israeli commentators interpreted the ambush as Syria's way of stepping up pressure in light of stalled peace talks between the two countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has focused his attention on peace negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and many political observers suggest that he will not concern himself with the Syrian negotiations until after Israeli elections next year.

Syria has made the full return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, a condition for peace.

Although Rabin had indicated that he might be willing to give back the area, there is growing public opposition to relinquishing the lush and strategic high ground along the border.

Syria has suspended talks between high-level military officials from the two countries that began in Washington this summer.

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Israel says Syria has refused to discuss Israel's demand for early-warning stations on the Golan Heights.

"At this stage there is a freeze" in negotiations, Peres told Israel Radio. "The president of Syria wants everyone to dance to his tune, and it is very hard. In essence, what he wants is first for us to accept his opinion and afterward hold negotiations."

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced Thursday that he will not make an expected trip to Syria and Israel later this month following a Middle Eastern business conference in Amman, Jordan.

Syria is boycotting the high-powered conference because Israel will be present.

Recently, Assad has criticized Jordan and the Palestinians for breaking ranks and making peace with Israel before Syria does.

The Syrian president considers himself a key powerbroker in the Arab world's conflicts with Israel.

The ambush in southern Lebanon occurred Thursday night when guerrillas detonated up to three remote-control bombs as Israeli soldiers passed in a convoy of three unmarked cars. The guerrillas then sprayed machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades at the convoy.

Israeli soldiers responded to the attack with artillery shelling of Shiite Muslim villages believed to be Hezbollah strongholds. Helicopter gunships strafed the rugged hills where the guerrillas move.

It was unknown if there were casualties.

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The road where the attack occurred is in the central sector of the area occupied by Israel in 1985 to protect Israel's northern towns from guerrilla raids.

Hezbollah, pro-Iranian Shiite Muslims, claimed responsibility for the ambush. They are fighting to oust Israelis from the occupied zone.

On Wednesday, a Hezbollah guerrilla was killed and an Israeli soldier was seriously wounded in a clash just outside the security zone. Israeli army units have also blown up suspected guerrilla hide-outs twice in the past two days.

Southern Lebanon is Israel's last active war front.

Sixteen Israeli soldiers have died there this year.

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