Israel Pulls Back Military Response to Hezbollah Attack

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Israel destroyed a Hezbollah (search) cannon with an air strike in southern Lebanon, but indicated Monday that there would be no large-scale response to the killing of an Israeli teen by guerrilla shelling.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) would largely use diplomacy to try to halt cross-border rocketing by the Lebanese guerrilla group.

Israel blames Syria (search), the main power in Lebanon, for the weekend flareup, and signaled that it wants Washington to enforce a U.S. demand that Syria rein in Hezbollah, which also has Iranian backing.

The Egyptian, Saudi and Syrian foreign ministers hastily scheduled a meeting in Cairo Monday that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said would focus on Israel and Iraq. Egypt, whose 1979 peace treaty with Israel was the first in the Arab world, has long been seen as a moderate mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

There is concern that an escalation on the Israeli-Lebanese border might re-ignite Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in a lull since Palestinian militant groups declared a cease-fire six weeks ago, and jeopardize further the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian areas have ties to Hezbollah.

The Israeli boy, 16-year-old Haviv Dadon, was killed Sunday as he walked home from a summer job in the border town of Shlomi. He was the first Israeli civilian to be killed by Hezbollah shelling since 1999. Five others were hurt, including a mother and her 9-month-old baby.

After the teenager's funeral Sunday, the streets of Shlomi, a working-class town of 6,000 people, were deserted, with residents staying in their homes or in bomb shelters. "We are very afraid," said resident Lara Elhai, 50. "Any moment, they (Hezbollah) could shoot at us."

Israeli attack helicopters destroyed the cannon that launched the shells, the Israeli military said. Early Monday, an Israeli warplane broke the sound barrier over Beirut, setting off a sonic boom that woke residents, a frequent Israeli tactic when tension rises.

However, Israeli defense officials suggested Monday that there would be no further response.

"There is a combined military and diplomatic reaction here. It's important to remember the diplomatic aspect here," Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Israel Army Radio.

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, said he expected Hezbollah to pull back.

"It appears Hezbollah is not interested in a deterioration (of the situation) because it is fully aware of the might of the Israeli Defense Forces," Gilad told Israel Radio.

Both officials held Syria responsible, saying that without support from Damascus, the Lebanese guerrillas would be unable to get more supplies, including rockets.

Israel and Lebanese guerrillas engaged in a bloody war stretching back to 1982. It ended in May 2000, when Israel withdrew to an international boundary drawn by the United Nations. Except for clashes over an area Lebanon still claims, the border was largely quiet.

Several months ago, Hezbollah started firing anti-aircraft shells at Israeli warplanes overflying Lebanon. Israel's sophisticated aircraft are hardly endangered by such weapons, but the shells' trajectory sometimes took them across the border, where they exploded over Israeli towns.

Until Sunday, no one had been killed or seriously injured on the Israeli side, and Israel did not retaliate.

Hezbollah held Israel responsible for Sunday's shelling, since it was sending its warplanes over southern Lebanon, drawing fire.

"This anti-aircraft fire is fired as a reaction to warplanes that regularly violate Lebanese airspace," Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheik Naim Kassem said in an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite station.

Israel denied that planes were flying in the border area at the time of the shelling.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel to exercise utmost restraint, but said the shelling "represents a serious violation" of the border and previous U.N. resolutions.

The peace plan continued to hit snags Sunday.

At a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, Israeli leaders said they would put the brakes on the "road map" until Palestinian police disarm violent groups, warning that militants are using a cease-fire to rearm. Palestinians, however, say Israel is the one violating the plan.

Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said that while the Palestinian public was opposed to terror attacks on Israelis and wanted a six-week-old cease-fire to continue, Palestinian security forces were doing little to stop attacks, according to an official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

"The Palestinian Authority must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure -- period," the official quoted Yaalon as saying.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat said it was Israel that was failing to live up to its commitments under the "road map."

"In accordance with the road map, what should be dismantled is the Israeli occupation and the Israeli settlements," Erekat said, referring to about 100 unauthorized settlement outposts established in the West Bank since 2001.