Large scale Israeli armored forces, spearheaded by tanks and said to include paratroop units entered Lebanon today in what was described officially as an operation aimed at pushing Palestinian terrorist forces beyond artillery and rocket range of northern Israel.
The invasion, which reportedly swept through the zones in southern Lebanon held by the United Nations interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), followed two days of intensive Israeli air and sea bombardment of Palestinian targets in Lebanon, including Beirut. The air attacks were ordered in re-retaliation for the assassination attempt which severely wounded Israel’s Ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, in London Thursday night. Israel holds the Palestine Liberation Organization responsible.
The Palestinians responded by launching artillery and rocket attacks on Israeli towns and settlements causing extensive damage but only light casualties, according to official reports. The attacks continued today.
The Israeli ground push into Lebanon was underway for some time before an official announcement was made after today’s Cabinet session. The statement read to reporters by Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor said: “The government of Israel decided to order the Israel Defense Force with the mission to exclude all Galilee settlements from the firing range of the terrorists who concentrate — men, units and bases — in Lebanon. The name of the operation is Peace for Galilee.’ During the implementation of this mission, the-Syrian army will not be attacked unless it attacks our forces. The State of Israel continues to aspire for a peace treaty with independent Lebanon, preserving its territorial integrity.”
BEGIN: EXERCISING SELF DEFENSE
The decision to launch the ground attack, after two days of aerial bombardment, was made at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting which convened secretly last night. It was taken despite American requests for “restraint.” President Reagan, attending the Western economic summit meeting at Versailles, sent Premier Menachem Begin what was described here as “a friendly and non-threatening message” urging Israel to exercise “restraint” and to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a cessation of hostilities.
Begin responded to the message, saying that Israel was exercising its right of self defense after repeated attacks on civilians, men, women and children.
Most reports of the fighting in Lebanon today came from Lebanese and UNIFIL sources. Israel released few details but acknowledged casualties. As of noon (local time) today, they included one Israeli soldier killed Friday by a direct rocket hit on his vehicle and 30 people injured, most of them slightly. An Israeli pilot bailed out when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He was captured by Lebanese units who sent him to Beirut for interrogation by the PLO after medical treatment. Lebanese sources said the downed Israeli plane was an American-made Skyhawk. An Israeli helicopter was also acknowledged to have been shot down yesterday and its two-man crew was posted missing.
The Israeli air raids on PLO targets in Lebanon reportedly were wide-ranging and supported by Israeli naval units hitting targets along the coast. A military spokesman said today they were carefully selected and many direct hits were scared. The targets included a PLO installation in a sports stadium in Beirut; installations around Beirut; PLO training camps and ammunition dumps along the coast; and artillery batteries in the area of the Beaufort Castle north of Metullah.
FEW INJURIES IN GALILEE
When the air raids started Friday, residents of Galilee towns and villages from Kiryat Shemona and other border towns to Nahariya on the Mediterranean coast were ordered into bomb shelters. Shelling and rocket attacks followed quickly. Israeli sources said the Palestinians were using multi-barrel Katyusha rocket launchers, 130 mm. artillery and tank guns. The rockets and shells caused heavy damage to homes, public buildings, vehicles, electric power and telephone lines.
But there were relatively few injuries and most were slight. All schools and factories in northern Israel were closed today because workers and students were forced to remain in bomb shelters. Israel radio and television broadcast a variety of programs around the clock to entertain them.
No details were released on today’s Cabinet meeting apart from the statement of Israel’s aims The statement indicated that Israel was seeking a “new order” in southern Lebanon under which the Palestinian terrorists would no longer constitute a military threat to the civilian population of northern Israel, estimated at about 100,000.
That aim was in line with Israel’s repeated statements in the past that it would not allow a recurrence of the war of attrition waged by the terrorists before the July, 1981 cease-fire. The announcement that Israel did not intend to attack Syrian forces unless attacked was understood to have been conveyed to Damascus through American diplomatic sources. The Cabinet announcement stated Israel’s intention to honor Lebanon’s “territorial integrity.” But Israel was not expected to withdraw its forces from Lebanon until it achieved its stated objective of driving the Palestinians beyond artillery range of its borders.
Israel is expected eventually to seek a new cease-fire formula which could not be subject to different interpretations. The July cease-fire was taken by Israel to apply to all hostile acts on all of its border and against Israeli installations and personnel abroad. The PLO insisted that it applied only to hostilities along the Lebanese border.
Begin consulted during the day with the leaders of opposition parties, including the Labor Align- ment and the tiny Telem and Tehiya factions. Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin expressed total support for the government’s actions today. He told an audience in Tel Aviv that the people should rally behind the decisions of the “legitimate elected government of the State.”
Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres also supported the decision to invade Lebanon, but less enthusiastically. Emerging from a meeting with Begin, Peres said the operation was purely defensive. He added, “I don’t believe that Israel has any expansionist aims in Lebanon. I am convinced that the ultimate interest of Israel is not to deteriorate into war.”