BEIRUT, JAN. 3 -- Israel's first air strike of the year, targeted against Palestinian bases in Druze-controlled hills and coastal villages, killed 19 people and wounded at least 14, police and hospital officials said today.
The coastal villages of Damur and Jiyah and the Sunni Moslem township of Barja -- all under Druze control -- were bombed last night while helicopter gunships laid down covering fire and other Israeli jets dropped illuminating flares.
Near the port city of Sidon, Israeli jets attacked guerrilla positions near the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain Helweh and a highway junction at the Awwali River that is only a short distance from Syrian-manned checkpoints.
In Barja, a small village nestled in the foothills of the Chouf Mountains, six houses were flattened and a two-story building brought down. Seven members of a Palestinian family were buried under the rubble of their house.
A guerrilla base hit in the air strikes belongs to the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which claimed responsibility for the hang-glider attack against an Israeli military camp Nov. 25 in which six soldiers were killed and eight wounded.
Although Israel vowed to avenge the attack, more than a month passed without retaliation.
The multiple air raids served notice that Israel would not abandon its longtime policy of combating Palestinian guerrillas inside Lebanon despite its preoccupation with turmoil in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
The Israeli attacks on Druze territory also served to dramatize a two-day standoff between the Lebanese Army and the militia of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The air strikes coincided with a blockade by the Lebanese Army against private Moslem ports in an attempt to force the return of a military helicopter that a defecting pilot had flown from Adma Air Base to a valley near the coastal town of Damur.
The pilot, Majed Karameh, a Druze, said he defected because of religious discrimination in the Christian-commanded Army and the still unresolved assassination of prime minister Rashid Karami in June.
Karami, a Sunni Moslem, was killed when a bomb blew up under his seat on a Lebanese Army helicopter.
To get the helicopter back, the Lebanese Army slapped a sea and air blockade on the ports of Khaldeh and Jiyah, run by Druze and Moslem militias opposed to Christian Lebanese President Amin Gemayel. The ports take in fuel, food and other supplies and charge illegal, competitive customs taxes, depriving the Lebanese government of the revenue.
Despite some military posturing, the Druze failed to carry out threats to use artillery against Christian ports if the siege was not lifted. Druze leader Jumblatt declared in Amman, Jordan, over the weekend that his militia was ready to go to war against the Lebanese Army over the helicopter crisis, but the feared shelling and rocketing of Christian and Druze areas has not materialized.
The Israeli air strikes last night are likely to revive the issue of which side the Lebanese Army should be on during Israeli raids, according to some observers, because they took place while Army patrol boats and helicopters were being used against a local militia.