The few men of fighting age remaining in this picturesque southern Lebanese town of 10,000 Shiite Moslems walked aimlessly today through streets littered with cars flattened by Israeli tanks and houses dynamited into piles of rubble and spoke of little else but revenge.
"They'll hear from us, this I promise," Riad Assad, a young engineer and a guerrilla in the Shiite Moslem Amal militia said bitterly. "There are only nine men my age left. They took all our men, but I escaped. I am ashamed to be a man today, but I will answer them."
The guerrillas, however, ruled out attacking across the border into Israel after the occupying forces leave Lebanon. "It will stop at the international border," one said. They stressed that Israel was occupying Lebanese territory and they wanted to force the Israelis out more quickly than they are planning to leave.
Zrariyeh, just outside the defense line established by Israeli troops after they completed the first phase of their withdrawal from Lebanon on Feb. 16, was attacked by Israel and reoccupied for several hours yesterday as troops rounded up almost all the young men, interrogated them in the town square while a hooded informant identified them and then took away 200 of them in four buses, townspeople said today.
The attack came a day after a suicide truck bomb killed 12 Israeli soldiers and wounded 14 near the Israeli-Lebanese border. The Israeli Army command in Tel Aviv said today that 34 guerrillas were killed here and that there were no Israeli casualties.
Despite the losses Israel inflicted on Zrariyeh, Assad said, the attack only served to further radicalize the population, which he admitted had long been a stronghold for the Amal guerrillas. "Everybody here is in the resistance movement," he said.
While the Israelis have made similar raids before in the increasingly bitter struggle in southern Lebanon, the death toll was the highest since Israel began its "iron fist" policy, as Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin described it, against centers of resistance near the coastal city of Tyre last month in an attempt to curb mounting attacks on its troops.
The town also dramatically illustrates the seemingly endless spiral of terror attacks, reprisal raids and further vengeance attacks as the Israeli troops attempt to complete their withdrawal from Lebanon against increasing harassment from local Shiite guerrillas.
Townspeople, including fighters who avoided capture, said the first hint of a reprisal raid came at 4:30 a.m. when they heard the rumble of tanks and armored personal carriers approaching, followed by heavy machine-gun fire. The Amal militiamen, backed by about 30 Lebanese Army troops positioned on the fringe of town, fought the Israelis for about two hours before the defenses crumbled, they said.
The Berkeley-educated Assad, who is close to the Amal leadership, said his men could have held out longer if the battle had been fought in the streets house-to-house rather than on the outskirts, but that in the end his men were overwhelmed by Israeli firepower.
Assad said Israeli troops, some with leashed dogs, fanned out through the town searching for men, while an armored vehicle with loudspeakers ordered all men to muster in the town square. Scores of houses today showed signs of ransacking, and some had been dynamited, as had the local police station.
Townspeople said that the Israelis had a list of names that were read in the town square, while a local informant verified the identities. The informant was wearing a hood with one eyehole over the right eye, they said, but when the selection process was completed, the soldiers yanked off the hood and then drove the informant away.
Assad would not identify the informant, other than to say that he had been an Amal guerrilla who was captured four months ago and held at Israel's Ansar detention camp near Nabatiyeh, Lebanon.
"God knows what he must have gone through there," Assad said.
The men were loaded onto buses and driven away, the townspeople said, and the women were warned that if television photographers were allowed into Zrariyeh, the town would be destroyed.
Today Zrariyeh was littered with the wreckage of cars that had been blown apart, apparently by tank cannon fire, or flattened by tanks running over them.
Assad said all of the Lebanese Army soldiers, who had been armed only with automatic rifles and two rocket-propelled grenades, were captured, but released when the Israelis withdrew. He said the Lebanese soldiers fired at the Israeli troops, but were generally ineffective.
"It was basically our fault," he said. "We should have had ambushes all around the place, but instead we just had some checkpoints." He said intensive shelling of the town Friday and Saturday night should have indicated an attack was imminent.
"But they miscalulated one thing," Assad said. "In dealing with the south, you can't continue to go in with force. The more force you use, the stronger the resistance will be. To me, dying fighting is an honor. We will all fight to the death."
He said that the Israelis were trying to "psychologically break" the people and turn them against the guerrillas, and that he believed that even after the pullout from Lebanon is completed, the Israelis will continue the strategy with hit-and-run raids throughout the south.
One guerrilla, who wore camouflage fatigues and would not identify himself, said he was prepared to go back into action against the Israeli occupation forces immediately.
Despite the ferocity of the battle, Israeli troops took time to methodically paint over Amal slogans and to paint red beards on posters of Amal leader Nabih Berri and Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Signs freshly painted in Arabic on the walls of the town square read: "This is revenge for each drop of Israeli blood, revenge from the Israeli Defense Forces."