JERUSALEM, FEB. 5 -- Israeli warplanes carried out a major strike against Palestinian guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon today in retaliation for rocket attacks against the Israeli-held "security zone" in that country.
Reports from Lebanon said eight people were killed -- seven of them guerrillas -- and more than two dozen injured.
The bombing raid was the first major air attack by Israel in several years against bases of Fatah, the largest component of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and it confirmed the rupturing of what had been a two-year truce between Israel and the up to 15,000 Fatah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.
Lebanese security sources said the raid hit seven villages southeast of Sidon, and targeted strongholds of Fatah, which is headed by Yasser Arafat, and the pro-Iraqi Baath Party. An Israeli army statement said all the targets were hit and all planes returned safely.
Israeli spokesmen have accused Arafat of ordering rocket attacks that struck Israeli-held territory in Lebanon on five successive days last week. No damage or injuries were reported in the attacks, but Israel charged they were aimed at its northernmost settlements and were intended to support Iraq by opening a second front in the Persian Gulf War.
PLO headquarters in Tunis has denied that Arafat ordered the attacks and on Monday, PLO officials in Lebanon were reported as saying they would cease. Syria and its supporters in Lebanon had demanded an end to the rocketing. Lebanon's army planned to deploy in southern Lebanon beginning Wednesday in an effort to extend the control of the Syrian-backed government over the area.
A police spokesman in Lebanon, quoted by the Associated Press, said that the fatalities in today's raid included seven Fatah guerrillas and a civilian, and that at least six civilians were wounded.
The spokesmen said the Israeli planes scored direct hits on a Fatah base in the village of Aarab Salim, and demolished a house used by the Baath Socialist Party in Baisour. Other accounts said Fatah outposts in Sarba and Houmine were also hit.
Meanwhile, Israel began easing a curfew imposed three weeks ago on the 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip -- the longest since Israel captured the territories in 1967.
The army said curfews were lifted in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Jericho and Kalkilya, where unrest has been relatively rare, and daytime activity was allowed in Ramallah and Hebron. Some rural areas of the Gaza Strip also were allowed to resume normal activity.
Defense Ministry officials said they plan a gradual, phased return to normal activity in the territories, but warned that the process would continue only if there is no unrest. Israeli leaders have been angered by widespread Palestinian support for Iraq and its missile attacks on Israel, and say they are concerned that militant Arabs in the territories might try to provoke confrontations with the army as a way of supporting Iraq.