Israeli commandos, wearing Lebanese uniforms, ran into Hebzollah

By Amos Harel


Av 26, 5766

Correspondent, and News Agencies
An Israel Defense Forces officer was killed and two other officers were wounded - one seriously - during a commando raid near the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon early Saturday.

Following the raid, the Defense Ministry on Saturday said the operation will probably not bring the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah to and end.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz authorized the operation despite the UN-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

The raid was authorized in a meeting Olmert and Peretz held with the IDF senior command on Wednesday.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the unit was transported by helicopter before dawn, and was being driven in two vehicles to raid the office of senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek in the village of Bodai before being discovered by Hezbollah militants. A battle gunbattle erupted and the troops were forced to retreat, Hezbollah TV said.

Lebanese sources said the troops were carried in two Lebanese army vehicles and were wearing Lebanese army uniforms.

Lebanese security officials later said that three Hezbollah guerrillas were killed in the fighting, but Hezbollah sources claim their operatives emerged from the battle unharmed. IDF officials voiced skepticism at Hezbollah's claim.

Channel 10 TV and Israel Radio reported that several Hezbollah operatives were taken as prisoners in the raid, though the army declined to confirm or deny this report.

Army sources said the vehicles came under heavy fire, and that "we had great luck that the operation didn't result in 10 fatalities from the force." They said that it was thanks only to the troops' resourcefulness and courage that the unit did not suffer a far greater tragedy.

Earlier Saturday, Israeli aircraft fired several rockets at a target in a Hezbollah stronghold in eastern Lebanon, a Lebanese security source said.

The IDF said the assault aimed to disrupt arms smuggling to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria and that such operations would continue until "an effective monitoring unit" was in place to prevent Hezbollah from rebuilding its arsenal.

"Special forces carried out an operation to disrupt terror actions against Israel with an emphasis on the transfer of munitions from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah," the IDF said, adding that the operation had achieved all its aims.

"If the Syrians and Iran continue to arm Hezbollah in violation of the (UN cease-fire) resolution, Israel is entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "Once the Lebanese army and the international forces are active... then such Israeli activity will become superfluous."

The provincial government official, Bekaa Valley Governor Antoine Suleiman, confirmed the troop landing.

Following the battle, Israel Air Force helicopters fired missiles as the commandos withdrew, leaving the area within an hour.

Witnesses at the site saw a destroyed bridge about 500 meters from the area where the landing took place. The witnesses said they believed it was destroyed by Israeli missiles.

IAF warplanes crisscrossed the skies above Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley early Saturday near Baalbek, security officials said.

The IAF has not attacked Lebanon since the UN cease-fire was implemented August 14.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release information to reporters, could not confirm whether there were any airstrikes.

Similar overflights were reported in the area Friday night.