Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin today rejected U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's assertion that Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Iraq had derailed the Middle East peace efforts of the U.S. special envoy.
Meanwhile, Israel launched a major sea and airborne commando attack late tonight on Palestinian positions near Damour, 16 miles south of Beirut but withdrew several hours later, the Israeli Army Command said.
Israeli air strikes in southern Lebanon continued for the eighth straight day, and Palestinian guerrillas responded with rocket fire against northern Israel.
In a statement issued by his office, Begin labeled "astonishing" a statement by Weinberger yesterday that Begin's actions "cannot really be described as moderate."
Begin's rebuttal referred to Weinberger's assertion that U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib on two occasions was on the verge of reaching an agreement to defuse the crisis over the deployment of Syrian missiles in Lebanon, but that each time the effort was scuttled, first by the Israeli air strike on Irag's nuclear reactor and then by the bombing of the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in central Beirut.
"The prime mnister met frequently with Mr. Habib for many hours of conversation after these events, but never did he learn such news from him," the statement said.
"Mr. Caspar Weinberger alleges that the prime minister does not behave with moderation. This reaction to Mr. Weinberger's astonishing remark is illustrative of the prime mnister's moderation," it added.
As Israeli Air Force jets again bombed Palestinian targets in southern Lebanon, the Army Command said the raids destroyed a Palestinian 130mm artillery emplacement near the village of Hasbeya. The Army command said the pilots reported accurate hits on the target and that all the plance returned to their bases.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said in Beirut that the attacks destroyed the main bridge on the Hasbani River controlling guerrilla routes from the Hasbeya area to the eastern Bekaa Valley, according to wire service reports. Two other Israeli bombing raids hit targets in the Palestinian-controlled interior, and Israeli gunboats shelled the Rashidieh rfugee camp south of the port city of Tyre, the PLO said. There were no reports of casualties.
[The artillery and rocket duel between Palestinian and Israeli forces on the northern border fell relatively quiet during the day, but the lull was broken after dark by a volley of Katuysha rockets exploding along a broad front in the northern Galilee region, Reuter reported.]
[The Israeli commando landing involved two destroyers, a submarine, eight gunboats and helicopters, according to PLO communiques quoted by The Associated Press. Lebanon's state rodio said the invaders were met by heavy resistance and that two civilian cars on the Damour highway were hit and three civilians were killed.]
An Israeli Army spokesman said the raiding party destroyed one vehicle, but he denied reports from Beirut that an electrical installation was also destroyed. However, military sources in Tel Aviv said an electrical installation may have been damaged, even though it was not the intended target.
Earlier today, the Israeli Cabinet met in a special session to discuss the Lebanon crisis and U.S.-Israeli relations, but the meeting was held in the guise of the ministerial committee for defense and security. Under Israeli law, discussions in such meetings are classified, and the Cabinet made no announcement of decisions taken in the session.
Habib, who has been in Riyadh talking with Saudi Arabian officials, is scheduled to return to Jerusalem Friday to meet with Begin and other Israeli officials.
[In a related development, ministers of Arab nations gathered in Tunis today to begin a meeting called by PLO leader Yasser Arafat to chart a joint Arab response to the Israeli bombing of Beirut last week and other raids that have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon, AP reported.]