JERUSALEM – Quiet has been temporarily restored along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, an apparent success for Secretary of State Colin Powell despite his failure to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.
For three weeks during the Israeli push into the West Bank, Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon fired rockets and gunfire at Israeli positions across the border. The shooting had stopped Saturday, two days before Powell visited Beirut.
The silence was broken late Wednesday when the Israeli army said gunmen on the Lebanese side of the border fired on an army jeep on patrol. Soldiers, unharmed, returned fire, the military said. Still, the scale of violence was minor.
"We were facing virtually incessant attacks," said Dore Gold, a top aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking Wednesday as Powell ended a weeklong truce mission. "Secretary Powell has placed appropriate pressure on Lebanon and Syria and the situation there is vastly improved."
Gold said Powell "does walk away with an important accomplishment."
Powell warned, however, the threat of attacks still exists.
"An additional cause for tension is the ongoing threat posed by attacks by Hezbollah and others across the United Nations recognized blue line," Powell told a news conference.
Powell met Lebanese and Syrian leaders Monday and Tuesday, warning that violence along the border between Lebanon and Israel could spread.
Hezbollah opened the campaign three weeks ago in apparent response to Israel's sweep through the West Bank. The renewed attacks in the north were an attempt to aid the Palestinians by engaging Israel on a second front.
Guerrillas fired powerful but wildly inaccurate Katyusha rockets for the first time since Israel ended an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. The attacks forced Israelis in the north to bomb shelters. Anti-tank missiles and mortars also were fired at Israeli army outposts. Israel responded with heavy artillery and air strikes.
In Beirut, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said there was a need for "objectivity" about the attacks, which he described as resistance to Israeli occupation.
The Lebanese officially support Hezbollah's shelling of Chebaa Farms, a small disputed enclave held by Israel along the border after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. Hezbollah has said it will continue those attacks.
Many Israelis fear the occasional fighting at Chebaa Farms could spark a wider regional war.
Israel says Lebanon must control fighters on its territory, and that Syria, the main power-broker in Lebanon with more than 20,000 troops stationed there, could stop guerrilla attacks if it wanted to.
After Hezbollah firing last year, Israel twice bombed Syrian military radar stations in Lebanon.
Even before Powell's visit to Beirut and Damascus, Hezbollah came under pressure from Iran to ease its attacks across Israel's northern border.
"We must have foresight and exercise self-control in order not to give Israel a pretext for expanding its war so as to avoid its failure in Palestine," said Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on a visit to Beirut last Thursday.