Three Israeli Soldiers Killed, 17 Wounded in Southern Lebanon

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and 17 wounded in heavy fighting Wednesday, in the battle for Maidoun village in southern Lebanon. Between 40 and 50 guerrillas were reportedly killed.

Israeli radio and television reported Wednesday night that all Israel Defense force soldiers had withdrawn to Israel, ending the two-day incursion into Lebanon.

Heavy fighting began at dawn between units of the IDF and its allied South Lebanon Army, and what Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin described as “hostile forces.”

The battle centered around Maidoun, just south of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, The resistance was reportedly mounted by guerrillas of Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian extremist Shiite militia and the mainstream Shiite militia, Amal.

The IDF-SLA forces, supported by artillery and missile-firing Cobra helicopter gunships, captured Maidoun after what was reported to be a short but fierce battle.

According to Lebanese sources and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, IDF gunners pounded the village with some 1,000 shells fired at the rate of 20 a minute.

The guerrillas fled to surrounding hilltops and fired at the attack helicopters.

According to Israel Radio, the decision to attack Maidoun stemmed from its importance as a guerrilla base and its position commanding an area that includes the Lebanese Christian town of Marjayoun, and Metulla and Kiryat Shmona in Upper Galilee.

Israel Radio’s military correspondent said there were no civilians in Maidoun, which had been turned into a fortress by Hezbollah and a base for terrorist attacks on the IDF and infiltration into the southern Lebanon security zone.

CLOSE TO SYRIAN TROOPS

Reports from Lebanon said the fighting took place only about a mile from Mashghara, the Syrian army’s forward positions in the Bekaa Valley. The Syrian army was put on full alert when the Israeli incursion began Monday, but has not intervened. The Syrians said they would not do so unless IDF forces advanced on them. Syria is reported to have more than 10,000 soldiers deployed there.

Lebanon radio said only a small Syrian force remained in Mashghara, the main body having pulled out when the IDF artillery went into action Wednesday morning.

Israel Radio said some IDF forces had completed their part of the operation and have begun to pull back into the security zone. There was no confirmation that a general IDF withdrawal had begun. Brig. Gen. Ephraim Lapid, an IDF spokesman, said Wednesday evening that the IDF would issue a communique when the operation is completed.

He said an interim communique was issued Tuesday night because the foreign media and Lebanese reports had exaggerated the size and scope of the operation. He referred to the NBC news report Monday that 2,000 Israeli troops had entered Lebanon.

Defense Minister Rabin told the Knesset Wednesday that the IDF was engaged in “a routine operation as part of the policy of routine security measures in south Lebanon, the aim of which is to prevent terrorist infiltration, to prevent terrorists from basing themselves in the area, and to transmit a clear message to the local population that they should not cooperate with those circles which aid the terrorists against us, from any type of organization.”

HOUSE-TO-HOUSE SEARCH

The first 24 hours of the IDF incursion was without serious incident. Israeli and SLA troops combed the rugged terrain north and northwest of the Galilee panhandle and on the western slopes of Mount Hermon. They conducted house-to-house searches in at least a dozen villages, looking for terrorist arms caches and possible hiding places in caves.

The terrorists apparently fled the region before the IDF arrived. But the IDF presence served as a warning to local villagers not to assist terrorists in any manner. Leaflets containing such warnings were widely distributed.

According to the IDF’s announcement of the operation late Monday night, it was undertaken to destroy terrorist arms and bases used in recent attempts to infiltrate Israel.

While the operation was under way, Israel Air Force planes flew surveillance missions over Palestinian refugee camps in the Sidon and Tyre areas.

According to reports here Wednesday, the number of troops engaged in the operation is considerably less than reported in the foreign press. Military sources said the troops numbered in the hundreds with a dozen or so tanks in support.

Meanwhile, UNIFIL sources reported that six Katyusha rockets were fired Wednesday from north of the southern Lebanon security zone toward Marjayoun, the SLA headquarters. There were no casualties. But one rocket struck the headquarters of the Norwegian UNIFIL contingent, causing heavy damage.

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