The Israeli Army mounted a major search operation today in Maarakeh, a village in southern Lebanon, killing one man who Israeli military officials said had tried to escape.
Sources in the area said the day-long search of the village involved about 800 Israeli soldiers and civilian security agents, making it the largest such operation in southern Lebanon since the Israelis began their recent crackdown against centers of Shiite Moslem resistance.
In Beirut, Shiite militia leader Nabih Berri, who is Lebanese Cabinet minister for southern Lebanon, threatened that Israeli villages in Galilee would be attacked in retaliation for the Israeli raids. "From now on, whenever a southern village is attacked, a Galilean village will be hit," he said, according to Reuter.
Timur Goksel, the spokesman for the U.N. peace-keeping force stationed in southern Lebanon, said that Israel detained about 350 men in the village school for questioning and that 17 were arrested and taken away by the Israelis.
Goksel said the Israelis blew up three houses and an automobile in Maarakeh and a house in Tair Debba, a neighboring village. He said about 40 soldiers and observers from a French unit of the U.N. force were in the village during the search and that there were no problems between them and the Israelis.
In one of the earlier search operations in southern Lebanon, a scuffle broke out between Israeli soldiers and French officers who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the Israelis from blowing up several houses.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin complained bitterly about the U.N. force earlier this week and was quoted as calling the French U.N. units "bastards."
Israeli military officials said that the three houses that were destroyed in Maarakeh contained large quantities of weapons and ammunition. They made no mention of the automobile or the house in Tair Debba that reportedly were destroyed.
The military officials said that during the search the Israelis discovered antitank weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, a machine gun and a mortar.
Three tanks, 50 armored personnel carriers and 30 other vehicles, including bulldozers, rumbled into Maarakeh at 7:30 a.m. past U.N. checkpoints, Reuter reported, quoting security sources. Helicopters made a dozen low-level passes over the village, Patrick Baz, a Reuter photographer on the scene, said.
Israeli forces briefly opened fire on Baz and another journalist as they walked down a road carrying a white flag, Reuter said, but no one was hit. The Israeli commander in the Tyre region also seized film from them, according to Reuter.
Baz said villagers had burned tires to block roads before the Israelis arrived but offered no other resistance and emerged when troops with megaphones ordered them to assemble at the school.
Residents of nearby Toura said the man who died had been left bleeding by Israelis for several hours and that Israeli forces had blocked French U.N. troops who wanted to go to his aid, Reuter reported.
Women in Maarakeh told Reuter supplies of gas and cooking oil had run out, flour prices had doubled and gasoline was very low because of Israeli restrictions on access to the village. During a recent Israeli raid there, troops searching homes ransacked food stocks, they said.
Maarakeh is one of a string of Shiite villages east of Tyre that form the center of Lebanese resistance to the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. It is the home village of Khalil Jarradi, a local leader of the Shiite Amal militia that has played a major role in atacking Israeli targets.