Israel Shuffles Command of Lebanon Offensive

Residents check the damage done to an apartment when it was hit by a Hezbollah rocket in the Israeli Arab town of Fazouta, near the border with Lebanon.
Residents check the damage done to an apartment when it was hit by a Hezbollah rocket in the Israeli Arab town of Fazouta, near the border with Lebanon. (By Muhammed Muheisen -- Associated Press)
By Jonathan Finer and Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

KIRYAT SHEMONA, Israel, Aug. 8 -- Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters waged deadly clashes in several border towns Tuesday and exchanged air and rocket attacks as the Israeli army sent a new commander to oversee its offensive, a move widely believed to reflect dissatisfaction with the way the war is proceeding.

The command change came as Israel's top security officials were set to meet Wednesday to consider an expansion of the ground offensive in Lebanon, a move called for by several commanders.

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was named "to coordinate the Israeli army's operations in Lebanon," according to a statement. It said top army officials retained "complete confidence" in Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's Northern Command, who has led the assault on Hezbollah since it began July 12.

But some Israeli television reports described the arrival of Kaplinsky, who had previously commanded Israeli forces in the West Bank and Lebanon, as "an impeachment" and said it was the first time since 1973 that the top command had been reshuffled during a war.

Although the Israeli public has strongly backed the four-week air and ground campaign, criticism had recently begun to mount about the way it was being conducted. Commanders have said the assault is aimed at pushing Hezbollah away from the border to prevent it from launching rocket attacks on Israeli towns, but the group has carried out its deadliest barrages of the war in recent days, including attacks that killed 15 civilians and soldiers Sunday. More than 160 rockets were fired at northern Israel Tuesday, though no deaths were reported.

Commanders, including Adam and Brig. Gen Guy Tzur, had said a more substantial invasion of Lebanon could stem the rocket attacks. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was scheduled to confer with cabinet members Wednesday to consider their request to send more troops deeper into Lebanon.

[Early Wednesday, Israeli gunboats shelled Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, killing at least one person and wounding three others, the Associated Press reported from Beirut, citing Lebanese and Palestinian officials. Israeli gunboats fired two shells, they said. One landed in the Ein el-Hilweh camp, located on the outskirts of the southern port city of Sidon, and the other slammed into the city's amusement park, they added. An Israeli military spokesman said, "It was an aerial attack, not a naval attack, and it was on a house in the camp that belongs to a Hezbollah member."]

The Israeli army on Tuesday reported three soldiers killed and several others wounded, almost all of them by antitank missiles in Lebanese border towns. It said at least 20 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the day's clashes. [On Wednesday, it announced that two other soldiers had died in fighting Tuesday in south Lebanon, the Associated Press reported.]

In Naqourah, on the Mediterranean coast just north of the Israeli border, Hezbollah said its fighters attacked an Israeli patrol, killing a number of soldiers. The Israeli military acknowledged two killed in the battle.

Israeli warplanes pursued their bombing campaign against Hezbollah positions across southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. One airstrike killed five people in the village of Ghazieh, south of Sidon, as villagers were burying 15 people who had been killed Monday in a similar bombing run, Hezbollah and Lebanese media reported.

Fighting also raged around Bint Jbeil, a town three miles north of the border that has been the scene of almost daily clashes since Israeli forces pushed into Lebanon. Hezbollah said its militia fighters entrenched in the town destroyed an approaching Israeli armored bulldozer and inflicted a number of casualties.

As Arab envoys traveled to the United Nations to push Lebanon's case for an immediate cease-fire, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the Lebanese army is capable of assuming control of the border area in cooperation with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, if Israeli troops withdraw as Lebanon has demanded.

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