The Israeli Army command said today that its troops mounted search operations in three villages in an area in southern Lebanon from which several Katyusha rockets had been fired at the Galilee panhandle in recent days.
The Army command said the raids were directed at the villages of Qabrikha, Majdal Silm and Sawwanah, located five to six miles west of the Israeli border at Qiryat Shemona.
The villages are all north of the narrow security corridor that the Israelis and their surrogate South Lebanon Army maintain along the international frontier. The Army said it was from the area of the villages that a Katyusha -- the rocket equivalent of a medium artillery shell -- was fired into the Galilee panhandle on Sunday, causing no injuries or damage. The rocket was the third to land in the area in less than 48 hours.
The Army command said that in the course of its searches today, it arrested "several suspects" and seized weapons, including Katyusha rockets, road mines, rocket-propelled grenades and bombs. An Army spokesman would not be specific about how many persons were arrested, or where they were taken.
An Army spokesman said, "Recently, several actions against our forces were perpetrated from the area, in which two Israel Defense Force soldiers were killed Aug. 5, and Katyusha rockets were fired at the north."
The two soldiers were killed in an encounter with a guerrilla unit near Majdal Silm. An Army spokesman said, "As you know, Israel's policy is to send the IDF into southern Lebanon on a temporary basis for a few hours or whatever time is needed for operations beyond the capability of the South Lebanon Army." The Israeli-backed SLA operates in the "security zone" Israel established in South Lebanon after withdrawing most of its troops in June.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the state radio that the operation was intended to make it clear to the Amal Shiite Moslem guerrilla organization that Israel "will not tolerate any extension into Israel of its struggle over the south Lebanon security zone."
Rabin told the radio that the firing of the Katyusha rockets may have reflected a change in Amal's stated policy of not engaging the IDF in Israel and limiting its actions to operations against the SLA in the security zone.
"If Amal has decided to extend its area of activities, we have made it clear that there will be no normal life for anyone in south Lebanon," Rabin was quoted as telling the state radio.
Minister of Police Haim Bar-Lev, meeting with foreign correspondents today, said, "Israel doesn't permanently stay in south Lebanon, but we are just around the corner, and if it is necessary to go in, we will do it."
Meanwhile, the Israeli Army radio reported that a car bomb containing at least 600 pounds of explosives detonated about five miles west of Jezzin, killing the driver and a Christian soldier who was standing nearby. Two other persons were reported wounded.
The Associated Press reporting from Beirut and Tyre, Lebanon, added:
The Syrian-supported Arab Baath Socialist Party said in Beirut that it staged the car-bombing, sending a sedan loaded with TNT crashing into a checkpoint at a base of the South Lebanon Army.
It claimed to have inflicted 60 casualties. Lebanese police said the car-bombing triggered clashes between the SLA and the Popular Liberation Army, an alliance of Moslem militias and leftist factions.
In another development, Israel released 113 more prisoners and sent them back to Lebanon on Red Cross buses. Shiite Moslem gunmen in Tyre charged that some of the freed prisoners were collaborators and dragged several away.
"They are Israeli collaborators," a Shiite militiaman shouted as at least a half dozen Palestinians were taken from buses at gunpoint and driven to an unknown destination. Red Cross officials watched helplessly.
Two Palestinians in a white Red Cross Peugeot sedan were dragged out by armed militiamen. A gunman jammed his AK47 automatic rifle at the head of one of the men.
This was the fifth group from more than 700 Lebanese and Palestinians freed by Israel since Shiite gunmen hijacked a TWA jetliner June 14. The Shiites held 39 Americans hostage for 17 days and demanded the prisoners' release.
Israel still holds between 100 and 150 men in Atlit.