TEL AVIV (Feb. 18)
A sailor aboard an Israel Navy patrol boat was killed by gunfire from the Lebanese shore Tuesday morning as armored Israel Defense Force units fanned out of the border security zone into south Lebanon to search for two IDF soldiers kidnapped Monday by Shiite Moslem extremists. A soldier of the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) was also kidnapped and two SLA soldiers were killed in a convoy ambush inside the security zone Monday.
Military sources identified the slain sailor as Daniel Amar, 19, a naval rating from Netanya. He was the victim of a sharpshooter who fired at the patrol boat from a beach near Tyre. He was the third Israeli military fatality since the IDF was withdrawn from south Lebanon eight months ago.
The identities of the kidnapped soldiers have not been made public nor were details of the massive search operation announced. But reports from the Lebanon border area Tuesday said a large IDF force consisting of hundreds of armored personnel carriers, halftracks, tanks and busloads of soldiers entered south Lebanon. IDF helicopters were participating in the search.
The reports said a number of suspected terrorists were detained. They are understood to be members of Hisbullah (Army of God), an extremist Shiite group linked to Iran. Hisbullah is believed responsible for the ambush of the three-car convoy carrying IDF and SLA soldiers near Beth Yahun village and is probably holding the kidnapped soldiers hostage.
ISRAEL TO CONTINUE THE SEARCH
Premier Shimon Peres, visiting Tel Aviv Tuesday, vowed that Israel would continue the search and other operations in south Lebanon until its objectives are achieved, in this case the rescue of the kidnapped men. “Israel will exhaust every possibility to find them. Every person in Israel is a world on his own and dear to us all,” Peres said.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who visited the scene of the ambush, told reporters Tuesday that large caches of arms have been uncovered in many south Lebanon villages being searched for the missing soldiers. He said that when the operation is completed, the IDF troops and equipment will be returned to routine duties in Israel. Only a small number of IDF personnel will remain in the security zone to act as liaison and instructors with the SLA, Rabin said.
He said the 3-to-12-mile security belt, established when the IDF pulled out of Lebanon last June, had proved its worth. He added, however, that it has become obvious that the defense methods and equipment used must be changed from time to time in light of changing circumstances.
During the operation Tuesday, helicopters showered leaflets on Lebanese towns and villages warning the population not to be drawn into hostile activities against the IDF. The Hezbullah is probably the most militant and fanatical of the anti-Israel groups in south Lebanon.
According to Israeli experts familiar with the Shiite population, the kidnappings of the soldiers and the taking of hostages from among the tiny Jewish community in Beirut — three have already been slain — is the work of Hezbullah. The kidnappers of the Beirut Jews call themselves “The Organization of the Oppressed of the World,” but according to the experts, Hezbullah operates under a variety of names in order to create confusion and deflect blame.
The Israeli experts say the latest rash of kidnappings has angered Amal, the main militia and political organization of the Shiite majority in south Lebanon. The extremists are trying to show up Amal as soft on Israel, the experts say. Amal had been the chief source of attacks on the IDF when it still occupied south Lebanon but became more restrained after the IDF left.