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Israel's Cabinet to debate Lebanon pullout
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's Cabinet will hold a marathon debate on Lebanon on Sunday, about four months before Barak aims to end years of military occupation there, his office said Friday.
On another front, Palestinian officials promised to let visiting U.S. envoy Dennis Ross know by Sunday night whether they will accept ideas for reviving peace talks with Israel that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat suspended three weeks ago.
Barak's office said the 23-member Cabinet would hold a lengthy debate on Lebanon. Barak has pledged to withdraw to the northern border by July 7 -- the anniversary of his first full day in office -- from a "security zone" Israel set up in 1985.
Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon are fighting to oust Israeli troops from the occupation zone, where the killings this year of seven soldiers were met by punishing Israeli air raids on three Lebanese power plants and other targets.
Opinion polls show growing Israeli support for a withdrawal, preferably as part of peace deals with Lebanon and Syria, the main power in Lebanon. But Israel has been emphatic about the response, if northern Israel comes under fire.
On Friday, the Israeli army said a mortar bomb fired by guerrillas in Lebanon had landed in a populated area of northern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.
Earlier the army said its warplanes attacked suspected guerrilla positions in Lebanon, and both sides reported an exchange of fire between guerrillas and positions manned by Israeli soldiers and their local militia.
Israel regards the Lebanese guerrillas as terrorists, but the Beirut government Friday reacted with outrage and summoned the French ambassador after French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, visiting Israel, spoke of "terrorist attacks."
The remark raised eyebrows, because France is generally more sympathetic than the United States toward the Arabs, and co-chairs a committee supervising the 1996 April Understanding that bars attacks on civilians in Lebanon.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy threatened Wednesday to retaliate "blood for blood ... child for child," drawing criticism Thursday from the United States, Israel's closest ally and chief peace mediator.
U.S. criticizes Levy
"This kind of comment is inappropriate. We don't need rhetoric from anybody that inflames the situation," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
Asked about Washington's response, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Friday: "We very much respect the United States but we do what is good for our security and no one is in a position to preach morals to us."
Several Israeli leaders Friday defended Levy's right to say what he did -- and even suggested the remarks might be effective.
"Levy's remarks were not received all that well in Israel but perhaps on the other side they're understood as fitting," Sneh told Israel's Channel Two Television, adding that Israel would never target children.
"The foreign minister expressed some fairly understandable fury about the situation whereby they permit themselves to make a target of us, thinking they have some sort of immunity."
Palestinians promise Sunday answer
But a leader of the dovish Meimad movement in Barak's ruling One Israel faction, Rabbi Yehuda Amital, said he would have sacked Levy for failing on both moral and diplomatic grounds.
Rejecting a suggestion Levy was just upholding the biblical "eye for an eye" saying, Amital told Israel Radio: "The meaning of that is whoever killed, must pay. But a child for a child? Heaven forbid."
Talks have foundered on the Palestinian front with Israel rejecting Palestinian demands on the shape of a handover of more West Bank land to self-rule under interim accords. The transfer, now on indefinite hold, was to have taken place last month.
Arafat's adviser Nabil Abu Rdainah said: "We have received suggestions and ideas from the Americans and the Israelis. The Palestinian leadership will respond after 72 hours.
"On Sunday, the outcome of American efforts and contacts will be decided after President Arafat returns from Cairo and after his meeting with Ross that evening," Abu Rdainah told Reuters. Arafat will meet Egyptian leaders over the weekend.
Barak defends stiff threat against Lebanon by foreign minister
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