TEL AVIV (Jul. 11)
The Israel Defense Force suffered one of its bloodiest weeks in southern Lebanon in a long time, with five soldiers killed and eight wounded in clashes last Thursday and Friday.
Political and military leaders discussed the deteriorating situation at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting and at army general headquarters, reviewing what measures could be taken in retaliation and to prevent further loss of Israeli lives.
Israeli leaders blasted Syria for allowing the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian guerrilla groups to transport military equipment through Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.
Israel charged that the Syrian regime continues to provide cover and military aid to the Hezbollah and secular terrorist organizations, such as Nayef Hawatmeh’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has its headquarters in Damascus. Both receive arms and equipment from Iran via the Syrian capital.
The latest series of clashes began last Thursday, when two soldiers of the army’s elite Givati Brigade were killed and three wounded in an ambush by gunmen belonging to Ahmed Jabril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The Israeli soldiers were on patrol in the northeastern sector of the border security zone in southern Lebanon, when a roadside mine exploded.
In response to that attack, Israeli helicopters attacked local Jabril headquarters in Na’ameh village, near Beirut.
ISRAEL BEEFING UP PRESENCE
On Friday, three more Israeli soldiers were killed and five others wounded, two of them seriously, when an Israeli post in the zone sustained direct hits during an artillery bombardment from north of the zone.
The bombardment was so heavy that the dead and wounded could not be evacuated by helicopter for some hours.
The soldiers killed Friday were identified as Lt. Avraham Miller, 23, of Ra’anana; Sgt. Shahar Rafaeli, 22, of Kibbutz Beit Hashita; and Cpl. Daniel Ray, 18, of Zichron Ya’acov. They were buried Sunday.
The soldiers killed last Thursday were identified as Sgt. Eyal Levy, 20, of Bat Yam, and Sgt. Lior Kabir, 20, of Givatayim.
Escalating violence in southern Lebanon has claimed the lives of 12 soldiers since the beginning of the year, and 34 others have been wounded. This compares to 13 dead and 46 wounded during all of last year.
Military sources say there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of guerrilla attacks this year, put at 140, including over 30 explosive devices that were detected and neutralized.
Meanwhile, reports from Lebanon said Sunday that the army had beefed up its forces in the security zone by moving forward a number of heavy artillery batteries.