Israel raid in Lebanon tests U.N. truce


  • World
  • Saturday, 19 Aug 2006

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos raided a Hizbollah bastion on Saturday in what Lebanon called a "naked violation" of the U.N.-backed truce that halted Israel's 34-day war with the Shi'ite Muslim group. 

Israel said the operation in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley aimed to disrupt weapons supplies to Hizbollah from Syria and Iran. Both countries deny arming the group. 

Lebanese security sources said three Hizbollah guerrillas were killed in a dawn firefight with the Israeli commandos. The Israeli army said it had suffered one dead and two wounded. 

"It is a naked violation of the cessation of hostilities declared by the Security Council," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters, referring to an Aug. 11 resolution. 

Siniora said he had protested to visiting U.N. envoys. The truce came into effect on Monday. 

Commandos in two vehicles unloaded from helicopters were intercepted on their way to an office of a Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, in the village of Bodai, the Lebanese sources said. The Israelis withdrew under cover of air strikes. 

"Special forces carried out an operation to disrupt terror actions against Israel with an emphasis on the transfer of munitions from Syria and Iran to Hizbollah," Israel's army said. 

Bodai is 15 km northwest of the ancient city of Baalbek and 26 km from the Syrian border. 

The raid coincided with a Lebanese army drive to tighten its grip on the border with Syria. Thousands of troops deployed to block smuggling routes on Saturday, security sources said. 

Nevertheless, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said continued Hizbollah arms shipments and the absence of Lebanese and international troops on the border had made the raid necessary. 

"Israel reserves the right to act in order to enforce the spirit of the (U.N.) resolution," said spokesman Mark Regev. 

Resolution 1701 ordered Israel to end "all offensive military actions" and Hizbollah to end all attacks. It also called for an embargo on unauthorised arms supplies to Lebanon. 

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hizbollah's main ally in government, said he had also complained to the U.N. envoys, Terje Roed-Larsen and Vijay Nambiar, about the raid and said he was sure the guerrillas were too smart to retaliate. 

"CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES" 

At least 1,183 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis were killed in the war. Israel said it had killed more than 530 Hizbollah fighters -- at least five times more than the group has acknowledged. Hizbollah buried 54 guerrillas across Lebanon on Saturday, the largest total on a single day. 

The U.N. resolution also called for a strengthened U.N. force to support a Lebanese army deployment in the south. 

Fifty French military engineers disembarked at UNIFIL's base in Naqoura in the south, the first reinforcements since the war. 

The engineers were among 200 pledged by France, which has disappointed U.N. and U.S. hopes that it would form the backbone of the expanded U.N. force to supervise the truce, support the Lebanese army and monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops. 

French President Jacques Chirac spoke with the prime ministers of Italy, Finland and Turkey to stress the need for a clearer mandate for the force, known as UNIFIL, his office said. 

Chirac also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday on the same subject. France played a big role in drafting the U.N. resolution and had been expected to lead the new force. 

The United Nations wants to field an advance force of 3,500 troops by Sept. 2 and the entire complement of 13,000 extra troops by Nov. 4, as authorised by the U.N. resolution. 

The Lebanese army began deploying in the south on Thursday. Hizbollah fighters have lain low, without relinquishing their weapons, including the rockets they rained on Israel in the war. 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel and Lebanon to make "painful compromises" to win the release of captured Israeli soldiers and settle the issue of Lebanese prisoners. 

The war began after Hizbollah snatched two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, saying it wanted to trade them for Lebanese and Arab prisoners held in Israel. 

Israel seized Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, a top official of the Hamas militant group, at his home in the occupied West Bank on Saturday. 

Hours later, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier near the West Bank city of Nablus and was then shot dead by troops, the army and medics said. 

Israel has detained more than two dozen Hamas lawmakers and several other cabinet ministers since late June when it launched an offensive after Gaza militants seized a soldier. 

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Paris and U.N. bureaux) 

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