JERUSALEM, JAN. 29 -- Israeli gunboats and helicopters today attacked a Palestinian refugee camp near Tyre, Lebanon, after a barrage of Katyusha rockets exploded Monday night in a portion of southern Lebanon controlled by Israel as a border security zone, official sources here and in Lebanon said.
No injuries or damage were reported in the rocket attack. Reports from Lebanon said two people were killed and nine wounded in the Israeli reprisal.
Israeli government sources charged that the rocket attack was aimed at northern Israel, although none landed inside Israel, and they said it raised the prospect that Palestinian forces are trying to widen the Persian Gulf War. They charged that it had been carried out by fighters of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israeli officials speculated the PLO was seeking to aid Iraq by attacking Israel.
The reports from Lebanon said Israeli forces blasted the Rashidiyeh camp near Tyre. Police there, quoted by the Associated Press, said helicopters strafed the camp after a 30-minute bombardment by several gunboats and 155mm howitzer batteries positioned at the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Israeli artillery also reportedly shelled strongholds of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia above the Israeli "security zone" in Lebanon. Army officials said the barrage of several dozen Katyusha rockets, the largest to be fired at the Israeli-held territory in several years, had come from the Hezbollah-controlled area.
A government source said that, even though Fatah and Hezbollah forces had fought each other in southern Lebanon as recently as last summer, they were now cooperating in attacking Israel because of their mutual support for Iraq.
Reuter quoted Palestinian sources in southern Lebanon as saying that Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO and Fatah, had personally ordered the rocket attack in response to the U.S.-led offensive against Iraq. It quoted Arafat's representative in southern Lebanon, Zeid Wehbeh, as saying: "We will retaliate against the attacks on Iraq by hitting areas inside Israel. . . . We consider ourselves part of the battle in the gulf."
However, an Arafat spokesman at PLO headquarters in Tunis told Reuter that Arafat had given no instructions to attack Israel from Lebanon and had reprimanded Wehbeh.
A move by the thousands of Fatah fighters in southern Lebanon to attack Israel would break what has effectively been a two-year truce between the PLO and Israel in the area and would add a volatile new element to the gulf war, analysts here said.
The 1.7 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have strongly supported Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but Israel's army has kept them under an almost continuous curfew since the war began and only scattered unrest has been reported.
Meanwhile, some government officials indicated today that Israel still hopes to mount a joint operation with U.S. forces against the Scud missile sites in western Iraq that have been used to attack Israel.
Israeli radio quoted Defense Minister Moshe Arens as saying that the destruction of Iraqi missile launchers "is a more convenient objective for the Americans than for us, both because they are closer and because they have better means than we do."
However, several Israeli spokesmen continued to argue that Israel should be allowed to join allied actions in western Iraq against the Scuds. In a government-organized press conference, former army chief of staff Gen. Mordechai Gur hinted that Israel would favor a combined air and ground operation against Iraqi missile sites, with Israeli and U.S. forces acting together.
Type: Soviet weapon designed for area bombardment.
Standard warhead: high fragmentation
Length: about 16 ft.
Weight: 794 lb.
Background: The Soviets introduced a truck-mounted, multiple rocket launch system during World War II. Several variants remain in service today, including the BM-27 (described above), whose firing range is about 25 miles. Individual rockets are not highly accurate; Katyushas are launched in a barrage.
(This graphic ran only in early edition.)