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Operation in Lebanon Continues; Extent of IDF Involvement in Doubt

Israeli air force jets continued Thursday to pound targets in and around Louwaze village, a Hezbollah stronghold just north of the security zone in southern Lebanon.

On Wednesday night, Israeli helicopter gunships raided the Ein Hilwe refugee camp, south of the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon. It was not clear whether the two attacks were related.

Two people were killed and four were wounded, according to reports from the Ein Hilwe area. Anti-Aircraft fire from the refugee camp proved ineffective.

Troops of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army were reported Thursday to have entered the Louwaze village, which has been under attack since Wednesday.

Sources in Beirut quoted Hezbollah as admitting the loss of about 30 of its fighters dead, 25 wounded and another 20 missing, probably buried under rubble.

The Israeli public and foreign observers were puzzled, meanwhile, by conflicting versions of the operation offered by members of the Israel Defense Force high command.

The chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, insisted Wednesday that it was an SLA operation with “limited” support by the IDF, notably tank and artillery fire from inside the security zone.

He admitted, however, that air force jets had precision-bombed three terrorist targets in the village.

Shomron stressed that foreign media reports of large-scale IDF troop involvement were untrue.

MORE THAN A ‘ROUTINE FORCE’

But Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled, commander of the northern region, where the fighting is taking place, said Thursday that troops of his command comprising more than “a routine force” initiated and carried out the battle.

He said they crossed the boundaries of the security zone to attack the village about a mile away. According to Peled, it was the SLA that played the minor support role.

Both generals spoke at non-military forums. Peled addressed a Rotary Club meeting in Haifa. Shomron spoke at a Foreign Press Association luncheon in Jerusalem.

The chief of staff was promptly criticized by unidentified military sources for disclosing an operation while it was still in progress.

All sources agreed that the operation had the advance approval of the Ministerial Defense Committee, made up of the 10 ranking ministers who comprise the Inner Cabinet.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was widely criticized for ordering the IDF’s large-scale incursion into southern Lebanon three weeks ago, apparently without consulting his Cabinet colleagues in advance.

The objective then was Maidoun village, which was heavily fortified by Hezbollah after it ousted the civilian population. The IDF suffered three dead and 17 wounded in the assault that captured the village.

Louwaze was not as well fortified. It is strategically located at the edge of the corridor that connects the Lebanese Christian village of Jezzine with the security zone, and therefore was considered an apt target for the largely Christian SLA.

SHOMRON VERSION ACCEPTED

The Israeli news media seemed to accept Shomron’s version of the operation over Peled’s. All agreed, however, that Hezbollah was a malign presence in southern Lebanon and should be uprooted.

But military sources stressed that the latest operation was not an all-out war against the Shiite extremist organization, whose name means “Party of God.”

Rather, it was a message that the IDF will extend its area of operations beyond the security zone whenever a hostile military infrastructure is located nearby.

Shells and Katyusha rockets have been fired at IDF and SLA positions in the security zone in recent weeks. Terrorists in the area have planted road mines.

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