TEL AVIV (Jan. 27)
Once again, Shi’ite villagers in southern Lebanon are fleeing escalating warfare in the region between the Israel Defense Force and Hezbollah guerrillas, according to reports reaching here Monday.
One Israeli soldier and three guerrillas were killed and another soldier was wounded in this latest round of clashes, which pitted an IDF patrol and a heavily armed Hezbollah unit in the southern Lebanon security zone.
Sources in the area said IDF and SLA artillery shelled the area Sunday, resulting in six villagers wounded and 15 homes damaged.
This latest flight of villagers was apparently triggered by warnings from Israel and its allied South Lebanon Army of retaliatory action against local residents who cooperate with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.
The SLA commander, Gen. Antoine Lehad, and Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, the IDF commander of the northern front, warned residents of southern Lebanon they could not expect to live in peace if they allowed their villages to be used by terrorists.
Mordechai stressed that the villages themselves were not the targets of the artillery barrage, but the areas around them where Hezbollah is dug in.
Gen. Mordechai said Hezbollah has intensified guerrilla warfare against the IDF in its attempts to reach Israel’s northern border to harass towns and settlements there.
He said recent Hezbollah activity has included planting mines and explosive devices and firing at IDF positions. According to Mordechai, more than 20 incidents, most attributed to Hezbollah, have been reported in the security zone since the beginning of this year, nearly one per day.
Mordechai complained that the Beirut-controlled Lebanese regular army, which has gradually been extending the central government’s authority into southern Lebanon, has so far refrained from disarming Hezbollah, despite its success in disarming other local militias, including Hezbollah’s rival, the mainstream Shi’ite Amal.