Israeli troops killed 11 guerrillas today in one of the largest clashes in southern Lebanon in more than a year. In a separate incident, Israeli troops "forcibly removed" French U.N. soldiers trying to prevent the Israelis from demolishing homes of suspected guerrillas, a U.N. official said.
The 11 guerrillas killed were part of a force that had infiltrated south of the Awwali River, the line Israel is abandoning as of Monday in the first part of a three-stage withdrawal from Lebanon, the Israeli command here said. It said Israeli forces captured nine others.
NBC News said Israeli soldiers fired a shot into the car of a network correspondent at the Awwali River bridge near Sidon. It said it had protested the "outrageous" treatment. Details on Page B11.
The Israeli announcement did not identify the exact location of the clash with the guerrillas or their nationality, and a military spokesman said no other information was available. There were no Israeli casualties in the fighting, the announcement said.
Israeli television said tonight that the fighting took place about three miles east of the Lebanese coast and that the guerrilla force was made up of Palestinians. The location and the reported composition of the force suggested that the men were attempting to reach the Palestinian refugee camps southeast of Sidon.
The encounter with a guerrilla force of at least 20 men was a strong indication that armed groups are moving south in Lebanon in preparation for the first stage of the Israeli withdrawal. There has been widespread speculation that Syrian-backed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization will attempt to gain control of the big Palestinian refugee camps near Sidon as soon as the Israelis leave.
The Israelis are scheduled to withdraw from the western Awwali River, Sidon and the surrounding area by Monday.
Tonight's statement said the guerrilla force that was intercepted was heavily armed with automatic weapons and said this indicated that the men intended to remain in southern Lebanon for some time.
In a separate incident, Israeli armored units swept through a Shiite Moslem village northeast of Tyre and arrested about 60 persons. During their search, the Israelis scuffled with French officers of a U.N. peace-keeping force, according to Timur Goksel, the U.N. spokesman in southern Lebanon.
Goksel said 19 Israeli armored personnel carriers and two tanks entered Borj Rahhal at 7 a.m., after the convoy had been hit but not damaged by a roadside bomb, and rounded up 150 men for questioning. They took 60 with them when they left, Goksel said.
He said that the search of the village lasted until 3 p.m., and that U.N. soldiers later found one man who had been shot in the head and killed and another man who was wounded. Israeli radio quoted Israeli military sources as saying that one man had been killed and another wounded during the operation.
Goksel said the confrontation occurred when the French soldiers sought to halt the destruction of homes. "There was a scuffle and strong arguments between the French and Israelis," he said, and the French officers were "forcibly removed" by the Israelis, who then used bulldozers to destroy three homes and a community center.
An Israeli spokesman said he had no details about the incident.