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Israeli soldier killed

Iranian-backed guerrillas attacked an Israeli post in an occupied strip of south Lebanon on Saturday and claimed to have overrun it and set it ablaze. The fighting touched off artillery battles.

The Israeli army said one Israeli soldier was killed and two were wounded. Security sources in south Lebanon, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one Lebanese civilian was killed and 13 people were wounded, including five Israeli soldiers.

It was the fourth straight day of fighting in south Lebanon, the last active war front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The escalation of hostilities between Israel and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, or Party of God, was seen as a message that Arab extremists remain determined to block peace treaties with Israel.

The recent spate of violence flared Wednesday, when Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in a ceremony attended by President Clinton.

Israel's environment minister, Yossi Sarid, said it was possible that Syria, the undisputed power in Lebanon with 40,000 troops there, "is convinced that aggression by Hezbollah . . . will be useful to Syria in the negotiations . . . and perhaps even lead to Israeli concessions.

"But such acts only lead to a hardening of Israeli positions," he told Israel army radio.

In Beirut, President Elias Hrawi said Lebanon was prepared to establish a committee with Israel to draw up a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.

It was the first time that Hrawi had made such an offer since peace talks began three years ago. How seriously it will be taken is questionable. The Israelis have said they will only pull out when Syria withdraws its troops.