TEL AVIV (Mar. 11)
Israel was in mourning today as military burials were given the 12 soldiers killed in yesterday’s suicide truck-bomb attack on an Israel Defense Force convoy in south Lebanon, less than a mile from the Israeli border. An additional 14 soldiers were wounded, three of them seriously.
As military sources and media correspondents pieced together details of the carnage, the IDF reported that it killed 24 terrorists and arrested a large number of suspects in a raid on Al-Azhariya village, just north of the Litani River, a suspected base for assaults on Israeli units. The IDF also detained 10 Lebanese army regulars who allegedly tried to interfere.
The truck-bombing was the worst disaster to hit the IDF in Lebanon since November 4, 1983 when another suicide bomber crashed a vehicle into a military head-quarters building in Tyre, killing 28 Israeli soldiers and 35 Lebanese and Palestinians.
Three rival groups within the Shiite Moslem community claimed credit today for yesterday’s suicide mission. Israeli sources said this was typical, with each extremist group trying to outdo the other to enhance its image in the Arab community. President Chaim Herzog said today however that Israel does not consider itself an enemy of the Shiite community in Lebanon but will do everything possible to protect its soldiers who are now in the process of withdrawing from south Lebanon.
Herzog sent his condolences to the bereaved families. He described the fallen soldiers as victims of a mad and inexplicable hatred.
The death toll, originally reported as 10, was revised upward today to 12. Adding to the impact of the tragedy was the fact that it occurred less than a mile from Israel territory, within sight and sound of the border town of Metullah where windows were shattered by the blast. Several children at a school facing the road which parallels the border– where the attack occurred — sustained slight injuries, apparently from flying glass.
The doomed convoy entered Lebanon from Metullah. It was carrying regular soldiers and reservists, mostly non-coms, returning to their units in Lebanon from weekend leave in Israel. The convoy consisted of two “Safari”-type transport trucks with a canvas roof, open at the sides. The soldiers sit back-to-back on a central bench with their weapons ready to fire at attackers from either side of the road. The trucks were preceded by a lead jeep and a tail jeep guarding the rear of the convoy.
LONE DRIVER IN TRUCK
According to eye-witness reports, a small red Chevrolet pick-up truck bearing Lebanese license plates and a lone driver approached the convoy from the opposite direction at low speed. An officer in the lead jeep signaled the driver to pull off the road to allow the convoy to pass.
The vehicle continued to approach and, when directly alongside the first “Safari” transport, exploded, leaving a long, deep crater and pieces of twisted metal. The truck bomb is believed to have contained more than 100 kilograms of explosives.
The “Safari” truck was also blown to pieces.The soldiers who survived the blast suffered severe burns over most of their bodies and fractured bones. Medical help was on the spot within minutes of the attack. Helicopters flew the injured men to hospitals, mainly in Haifa. Some were taken to the Safed Hospital and transferred later to the Sheba government hospital near Tel Aviv and to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
One of the terrorist groups that took credit for the attack said the suicide driver had intended to drive his vehicle into Metullah and blow it up there, in which case the victims would have been civilians.
BAN ON LONE DRIVERS EXTENDED
The IDF today extended its general order banning all Lebanese vehicles with fewer than two occupants from the roads in all parts of south Lebanon still under Israeli control. The ban was originally imposed two weeks ago as a precaution against suicide attacks. But it applied only to areas where IDF patrols and positions had come under attack in the past.
The army also closed all bridges over the Litani River. Trucks coming from the north must transfer their cargoes to other vehicles on the south bank of the river to prevent the smuggling of weapons and explosives.
The IDF today published the names of the soldiers killed yesterday. They are:Regimental Sgt.Major Avraham Bousaglio of Migdal Haemek; Staff Sgt. Haim Avner of Jerusalem; Staff Sgt. Ephraim Michael of Holon; Sgt. Yitzhak Shahar of kiryat Shemona; Cpl. Hatib Rokn of Beit Jann; Cpl.Alexander Schneiderman of Carmiel; Cpl. Ofer Dayan of Haifa; Cpl. Tzafrir Segal of Tel Aviv; Pvt. lst Class Danny Melamed of Acre; Pvt. Moshe Dahan of Holon; Pvt. Giora Memen of Kiryat Ata; and Pvt. Shlomo Nagar of Hadera.
The IDF action at Al-Azariya village was not linked by military sources to the truck bombing nor were there any suggestions that it was in retaliation. The village, located one kilometer west of the area under IDF control, was described as a base from which attacks were mounted on Israeli units and where preparations were being made for further attacks. In addition to the 24 terrorists reported killed and the unspecified number detained, the IDF found large quantities of war materiel, an army spokesman said.
The altercation with the Lebanese regular army–the second in less than a week–occurred when Lebanese soldiers fired at Israeli troops after they had been warned not to interfere, an IDF spokesman said.