Hours after the Israelis ended a tank-led attack on two Moslem villages in southern Lebanon, another shower of Katyusha rockets sprayed Israel's border Friday, with one exploding in the courtyard of a rural home, killing a small girl.
The death of the 5-year-old child was the first inside Israel from a Katyusha blast in more than a decade and the first since the current round of tit-for-tat shelling began five days ago. The death also was likely to spark more reprisal raids.
Israel's government, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, has been weighing the value of expanding the Israeli-controlled buffer zone in southern Lebanon against the danger of getting bogged down in a wider conflict in the territory of its embattled neighbor.
Israeli armor had withdrawn within the border zone after a one-day assault on Kafra and Yater, two villages that were singled out as sources of the rocket fire. Officers said they had wiped out the threat.
But as friendly artillery covered the withdrawal, Katyusha fire from beyond the villages landed in the security belt, then inside a region that juts toward the Lebanese hills.
The slain Israeli girl, who lived at the Ramot Hagalil cooperative farm, was running toward her father when a shell exploded at her feet; her father and another man were lightly wounded.
The assault on the Lebanese villages killed two Israeli soldiers and at least seven Shiite guerrillas from the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Reports say that Shiite militia rushed back into Kafra and Yater as soon as the Israelis withdrew, celebrating by firing guns in the air. The euphoria was short-lived as Israeli artillery began to crash into the already battered villages.
The escalation of violence was a textbook example of how the cycle of battle, once set rolling, can easily spin into uncertainty.
Last Saturday, Palestinian infiltrators killed three Israeli soldiers inside an army camp in Israel. Israel first struck back by hitting Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon from the air. Then, in an attack that had more to do with Israeli-Hezbollah hostility than the Palestinian raid, an Israeli helicopter rocketed a car convoy carrying Sheik Abbas Musawi, a Shiite leader. He and his wife and son were killed.
Hezbollah then began to fire the Katyusha rockets into the buffer zone and northern Israel itself. Most fell harmlessly. Israel responded with tank and artillery fire, then with the incursion.
The next step for Israel is unclear. "The main problem facing the (army) in operating against Hezbollah in south Lebanon is not to lose control over events, and, thereby, prevent the actions against the Katyushas from becoming too wide of an operation, which will obligate the (Israelis) to remain a considerable length of time north of the security zone," wrote Zeev Schiff in Haaretz newspaper.