Israel Moves Thousands Of Soldiers Into Lebanon
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
ZARIT, Israel, Aug. 2 -- Thousands of Israeli soldiers streamed into southern Lebanon on Tuesday, as clashes with Hezbollah fighters in at least half a dozen towns marked an intensified ground campaign to dislodge Hezbollah strongholds that have withstood three weeks of aerial bombardment.
Israeli troops carried out an operation in the eastern city of Baalbek early Wednesday, "hitting a number of terrorists and arresting several," an Israeli military spokeswoman said Wednesday morning. She said all of the Israeli forces returned to the bases safely.
Hezbollah said on its al-Manar television station that its fighters battled Israeli commandos who launched a raid on a hospital in the city beginning at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Israeli military said it also planned to resume wide-scale air attacks after a 48-hour slowdown following an airstrike Sunday that killed more than 50 civilians, most of them children, in the Lebanese village of Qana.
Two Israeli soldiers and one officer were killed and 25 troops were slightly wounded Tuesday morning when Hezbollah fighters fired an antitank missile into a house Israeli troops were using as a command post in the town of Aita Al-Shaab, less than a mile north of this Israeli border town, according to a military spokesman.
Israeli officials said both air and land attacks would accelerate in the next few days as the military pushes deeper into southern Lebanon in an effort to clear a broad swath of villages and towns of Hezbollah fighters and the equipment they use to fire missiles into Israel. Israel has ordered its army to punch all the way to the Litani River, Israeli officials said.
Israeli military leaders said they were bracing for some of the toughest fighting in the 21-day campaign against Hezbollah.
"They are very hard to identify, very hard to know where they are," Brig. Gen. Shuki Shachar, deputy commander of the Israeli army's northern forces, told reporters Tuesday. "And it's very hard to hit them and not hit the population that they use in a cynical way."
Shachar said about six combat brigades, most of them infantry units, were involved in the fighting. Israeli brigades vary in size, but military analysts estimate that the force now fighting in Lebanon is at least 10,000 soldiers and could be more than 18,000. Military officials said the number of troops sent into Lebanon could soon triple.
The Associated Press quoted Hezbollah's chief spokesman, Hussein Rahal, as saying that Israeli troops had landed near Baalbek's Dar al-Hikma Hospital in a helicopter and that fierce fighting had broken out.
The Web site of the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that "helicopters put down" Israeli "commandos near Baalbek" early Wednesday.
Witnesses said the hospital was hit in an Israeli airstrike and was burning, the Associated Press reported. At least five civilians were killed and several others wounded in the strike, security sources said according to Reuters news service.