Peres blames Syria for attacks by rockets on northern Israel

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Shimon Peres called upon Syria to restrain the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement, which fired Katyusha rockets into northern Israel this week.

Peres told reporters during a visit Tuesday to Kiryat Shmona that Syria, which controls areas of Lebanon in which Hezbollah operates, must take responsibility for the rocket attacks.

Peres said the attacks contradicted remarks made a day earlier by Syria's foreign minister about possibly resuming peace negotiations, which have been stalled since June.

"We see a big contradiction between calling for peace and firing Katyushas," said Peres.

The United States condemned the attacks Tuesday and called on Syria to bring them to a halt.

The attacks are "clearly an effort to undermine the search of a peace in the Middle East," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

Burns also said that U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross would visit the region next week in an effort to restart the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.

Dozens of Katyushas rained down on the Galilee panhandle and Western Galilee on Tuesday, causing serious property damage and wounding six people lightly.

A medical official in Kiryat Shmona said four people were slightly wounded by shrapnel and that about 30 others were treated for shock.

One resident of a northern settlement told Israel Radio that his house had been battered repeatedly by Hezbollah Katyusha assaults in the past, and complained that there was inadequate security for the settlement.

"There was no one to help us" when Tuesday's attack occurred, Ya'acov Mashiah said. "Only after the attacks do all the officers come in their nice, clean uniforms.

"People have got to open their eyes. This has got to be the 15th Katyusha that has hit us. My home is the most rocketed in all of Israel."

The border remained on high alert Tuesday night, and northern residents were ordered to spend the night in underground shelters.

Tuesday's rocket attacks followed Monday's smaller-scale assault, in which the Israel Defense Force confirmed that one Katyusha fell inside the Israeli border, causing no damage or injury.

Israel responded to Tuesday's attack with artillery and air strikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.

Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal said the attacks violated an agreement reached with Hezbollah in July 1993, when Hezbollah's Katyusha assaults on northern Israel were met with intense Israeli bombardment of civilian areas in Lebanon.

At the time, both sides agreed to refrain from attacking civilian areas and to limit their hostilities to the southern Lebanon security zone.

Shahal said Israel might respond to this breach of the understanding "in such a way that Lebanese civilians who are sheltering Hezbollah will feel less secure than they do today."

Meanwhile, there was widespread speculation over what triggered the rocket attacks, the first since July.

Three Hezbollah fighters were killed over the weekend in Israeli air strikes. Israeli forces also demolished 10 abandoned houses in Lebanon that were suspected launch sites for Hezbollah forays into the security zone.

On Tuesday, according to reports from Lebanon, a senior Hezbollah official was killed in an explosion the group blamed on Israel.

Officials in Kiryat Shmona, the partner town of San Francisco's Jewish Community Federation, said rocket damage to the area could cost $3.3 million.