An Israeli soldier was killed and two were wounded early Saturday when commandos posing as Lebanese soldiers struck near the town of Boudai deep inside Lebanon in violation of the six-day-old cease-fire, the Washington Post reported Sunday.[1]  --  "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the raid during a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying it was 'intended to prevent the re-supply of new weapons and ammunition for Hezbollah,' officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the issue," but Annan condemned the raid as a cease-fire violation, AP reported.[2]  --  "The White House declined to criticize the raid," reporter Sam Ghattas noted.  --  "Lebanese media speculated that Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah official in the Bekaa Valley and a member of the group's executive council, may have been the target. Yazbeck is a native of Boudai.  --  The Israeli army denied it had captured any Hezbollah fighter, and said it had not been the raid's objective."  --  Debka, a web site with sources close to Israeli intelligence that is not always reliable, reported that "One of the objectives of the Israeli commando raid was to disable one of these [clandestine Hezbollah] units and bring members back for interrogation," and that three Hezbollah were killed and two captured by Israeli forces.[3] ...



Special reports

Mideast crisis

By Edward Cody

** Premier, U.N. Chief Condemn Attack as Violation of Truce **

Washington Post
August 20, 2006
Page A01

BEIRUT -- Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos raided a Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley early Saturday, setting off a fierce gun battle. Lebanon called the attack a "flagrant violation" of a fragile six-day-old cease-fire and threatened to halt troop deployments in protest.

Hezbollah, which battled the Israeli military for 33 days until the truce took hold Monday, said its fighters encountered the Israeli commandos in a field near the town of Boudai, about 20 miles from the Syrian border.

The Israeli military, confirming the raid, said its commandos carried out the operation to interdict shipments of weapons and munitions to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran. The military said one Israeli officer was killed and two soldiers were wounded, one seriously.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters in Beirut that the attack was a "flagrant violation" of the U.N. cease-fire and that he planned to lodge a complaint with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Later Saturday, Annan said that he agreed the raid violated the cease-fire agreement and that he was "deeply concerned."

Hezbollah issued no immediate reaction. But many Lebanese worried that the militant Shiite Muslim movement would retaliate, risking a chain of cease-fire violations that could rekindle the devastating war that drove nearly a fourth of Lebanon's inhabitants from their homes and inflicted an estimated $3.6 billion in damage to bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

In accepting the cease-fire, the Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrallah, warned that his militia reserved the right to attack Israelis as long as they remain on Lebanese soil. At the same time, the Israeli military declared that it reserved the right to respond to attacks and prevent weapons shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas in the southern border hills until an international force was in place.

In practice, however, Hezbollah has held its fire even though an unknown number of Israeli troops remain in observation posts scattered across the rocky Lebanese hills just north of the border. Until Saturday, Israel also had refrained from attacks of any size on Hezbollah fighters in the border area or on other Hezbollah installations farther north. The restraint by both sides had led to optimism in Beirut that the truce would hold and that rebuilding could begin -- optimism that suddenly came under doubt.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said the raid was not a violation of the cease-fire because it was in response to a violation by Hezbollah. "If the other side violates the cease-fire, then we are entitled to act," Regev said.

"Had the Lebanese forces, augmented by international troops, been on the border crossing points with Syria the way they should have been, then our attack would have been superfluous," he added. "Hopefully, those international troops will be there soon and then there will be no need for these kinds of actions. In the interim, we cannot have an open border with arms coming from Syria to rearm Hezbollah. The violation of the cease-fire is the arms transfer from Syria to Lebanon."

The Lebanese military, which stood aside during the war, has begun deploying along the border with Syria in northern and eastern Lebanon, in addition to its deployment over the last three days in villages along the southern border with Israel. But the frontier with Syria remains far from secured, officials acknowledged, and Israel is unlikely to relax its vigilance against Hezbollah arms deliveries.

The Lebanese defense minister, Elias Murr, said Lebanon would stop moving troops into the southern part of the country if the United Nations did not intervene, the Associated Press reported.

"We have put the matter forward in a serious manner and the U.N. delegation was understanding of the seriousness of the situation," Murr said. "We are awaiting an answer."

Israeli officials have said they are counting on the arrival of an international peacekeeping force to guarantee that the arms shipments stop. About 50 French military engineers arrived in southern Lebanon as a vanguard of the European and other soldiers who, under the U.N. resolution, will be assigned to reinforce the 2,000-member United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

But France and other European nations have expressed reluctance to commit troops to the operation until its U.N. mandate is clearly laid out. France, which was expected to provide several thousand troops, has limited its new contribution to 200. As a result, negotiations on assembling, transporting, and tasking the additional peacekeepers could drag out in the days ahead, increasing the risk of cease-fire violations.

Boudai, which lies in the foothills of the Mount Lebanon chain about 10 miles northwest of Baalbek, has long been known as a Hezbollah stronghold. Local officials speculated that a senior Hezbollah leader, Sheik Mohammed Yazbek, may have been the commandos' target. Other Lebanese suggested that the raid may have been an attempt to recover two Israeli soldiers whose seizure by Hezbollah commandos on July 12 precipitated the war.

The Israeli military, however, specified that preventing the transport of weapons was its objective. "The goals were achieved in full," it added in a statement.

Lebanese residents and security officials reported that Israeli planes were heard in the Bekaa Valley through the night, prompting fears of a raid. When they landed around 5 a.m., the Israeli special troops drove toward Boudai in two vehicles transported into Lebanon by helicopters, they said. When challenged, the Israelis identified themselves as Lebanese army troops, but the ploy failed and Hezbollah fighters opened fire, they added.

Hezbollah fighters found bloody bandages and syringes on the ground after the battle, leading them to conclude that the Israelis suffered casualties, according to Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, a Hezbollah ally. Hezbollah's al-Manar television reported a number of Israeli casualties but did not say whether they were killed or wounded.

Lebanese security officials told the Reuters news agency that three Hezbollah fighters were killed, but Hezbollah did not confirm the toll. --Correspondent Doug Struck in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


By Sam F. Ghattas

Associated Press
August 19, 2006

BEIRUT -- Israeli commandos raided a Hezbollah stronghold deep in Lebanon on Saturday, engaging in a fierce gunbattle, and the Lebanese government threatened to halt further troop deployments to protest what U.N. officials called a violation of the 6-day-old cease-fire.

Israel said the raid was launched to stop arms smuggling from Iran and Syria to the militant Shiite fighters. An Israeli officer was killed during the raid, and two soldiers were wounded, one seriously.

There were no signs of further clashes, but the flare-up underlined worries about the fragility of the cease-fire as the U.N. pleaded for nations to send troops to an international force in southern Lebanon that is to separate Israeli and Hezbollah fighters.

The office of Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement later Saturday labeling the operation a violation of the U.N. truce.

A contingent of 49 French soldiers landed in the south Saturday, providing the first reinforcements for the 2,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission known as UNIFIL that has been stationed in the region for years. About 200 more were expected next week.

They were the first additions to what is intended to grow into a 15,000-soldier U.N. force to police the truce with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers. France leads UNIFIL and already had 200 soldiers in Lebanon before the reinforcements.

But with Europe moving slowly to provide more troops, Israel warned it would continue to act on its own to enforce an arms embargo on the Lebanese guerrilla group until the Lebanese army and an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force are in place.

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

Defense Minister Elias Murr met with U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and threatened to halt the movement of Lebanese troops into the former war zone in the south if the United Nations did not intervene against Israel. That could deeply damage efforts to deploy a strong U.N. peacekeeping force.

"We have put the matter forward in a serious manner and the U.N. delegation was understanding of the seriousness of the situation," Murr told reporters. "We are awaiting an answer."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the raid during a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying it was "intended to prevent the re-supply of new weapons and ammunition for Hezbollah," officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

The Israeli leader pointed to the importance of the supervision of the Syrian-Lebanese border as well, they said.

The Israeli military also said the raid was launched "to prevent and interfere with terror activity against Israel, especially the smuggling of arms from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah."

The Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected the characterization of the raid as a truce violation, saying the Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers must take control of Lebanon's border with Syria to ensure arms don't reach Hezbollah.

"But in the interim, of course, we can't have a situation where endless amounts of weaponry arrive for Hezbollah, so we are forced to act in response to this violation," he said, warning that further incursions could occur.

A statement issued by Annan's spokesman later Saturday said that the U.N. chief spoke with both Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Olmert about the fighting. "The secretary-general is deeply concerned about a violation by the Israeli side of the cessation of hostilities," it said.

"All such violations of Security Council Resolution 1701 endanger the fragile calm that was reached after much negotiation," said the statement, issued by spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The White House declined to criticize the raid, noting that Israel said it acted in reaction to arms smuggling into Lebanon and that the U.N. resolution calls for the prevention of resupplying Hezbollah with weapons.

"The incident underscores the importance of quickly deploying the enhanced UNIFIL," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said.

Roed-Larsen said earlier the Lebanese army has deployed more than 1,500 soldiers in three sectors of the south where Israeli forces have left, and the 2,000 peacekeepers of UNIFIL have set up checkpoints and started patrolling the areas.

The broad outlines of the U.N. cease-fire plan call on Hezbollah to halt all attacks and for Israel to stop offensive operations. It gives Israel the right to respond if attacked, but the commandos were flown in by helicopter and the raid took place far from Israeli troops in southern Lebanon.

Israel did not identify the officer killed in the raid. Hezbollah issued a terse statement saying guerrillas "ambushed" the commando force and suffered no casualties. Lebanese security officials said three guerrillas were killed and three wounded.

The security officials said the commandos flew in by helicopter to a hill outside the village of Boudai west of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, about 17 miles from the Syrian border. Witnesses said Israeli missiles destroyed a bridge during the fighting.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information to the media, said the Israelis apparently were seeking a guerrilla target in a nearby school but they had no other details.

Lebanese media speculated that Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah official in the Bekaa Valley and a member of the group's executive council, may have been the target. Yazbeck is a native of Boudai.

The Israeli army denied it had captured any Hezbollah fighter, and said it had not been the raid's objective.

Overflights by Israeli jet fighters drowned out the clatter of helicopters that flew the commandos into the foothills of the central Lebanese mountains, local Hezbollah officials said.

Using two vehicles also delivered by helicopter, the commandos drove into Boudai and were intercepted by Hezbollah fighters in a field, the officials said. They said the Israelis identified themselves as Lebanese soldiers, but the guerrillas grew suspicious and gunfire erupted.

Israeli helicopters fired missiles as the commandos withdrew and flew them out of the area an hour later, the Hezbollah officials said.

Witnesses reported seeing bandages and syringes at the landing site outside Boudai. The bridge that witnesses said was destroyed was about 500 yards from the landing site.

The area in the eastern Bekaa Valley, 60 miles north of the Israeli border, is a major guerrilla stronghold. Baalbek is the birthplace of Hezbollah, a militant Islamic movement that is supported by Iran and Syria.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, buried 55 fighters Friday and Saturday in Haris, Majdel Silim, Bint Jbail, Deir Qanoun, and south Beirut, security officials said. Israel claims it killed hundreds of guerrillas during the war. Hezbollah reported 68 deaths.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said more countries needed to join the peacekeeping force. The U.N. wants to have 3,500 soldiers on the ground by Aug. 28 to help police the truce that took effect Monday and ended 34 days of brutal warfare.

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, France, and Finland have promised troops. In an effort to encourage more countries to sign on, Annan said the peacekeeping force would not "wage war" on Israel, Lebanon, or Hezbollah militants, addressing a key concern of many countries.

The U.N. and Lebanon's government have said Hezbollah will not be allowed to bring weapons out in public, but have declined to commit to trying to disarm the guerrillas, as called for in a September 2004 U.N. resolution.



August 19, 2006

Two Israeli soldiers were injured -- one seriously. Three Hezbollah were killed. The IDF reports the commando unit’s mission was accomplished.

A high-ranking officer commented on the report that the unit returned with two Hezbollah prisoners: “Undercover wars cannot be fought through the media. We carried out our mission and brought home what was necessary.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Bodai covert mission was one of a series the IDF has been carrying out against Hezbollah’s clandestine units since the Lebanon war began. These units are made up of Hezbollah’s top specialists in terrorism and undercover combat and are more dangerous than the men in the field.

One of the objectives of the Israeli commando raid was to disable one of these units and bring members back for interrogation. The commandoes were dropped outside Bordai, at a distance from the target. As the two Hummer vehicles landed with them carried the troops along the Bordai stream, air force helicopters fired rockets to destroy the bridges and cut the area off from Baalbek. The helicopters with warplane cover tried to prevent Hezbollah forces from severing the Israeli force’s line of retreat. An exchange of fire ensued in which Lt. Col. Moreno lost his life.