SHOMERA, ISRAEL, FEB. 7 -- Israeli commando forces launched their first ground raid against Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon in three months today, storming a base 12 miles north of the Israeli border where they destroyed at least four vehicles and an ammunition warehouse in a brief firefight, army officials said.
The army said all of its commandos -- believed to number about three dozen or more -- were safely returned by helicopter after the two-hour operation, which Lebanese reports said occurred at Sarba, a mountain village controlled by Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. There was no immediate word on casualties among the defenders.
An army spokesman said the raid was part of an Israeli policy seeking to push PLO guerrillas back, out of rocket range from the Israeli border. About 60 unguided 132mm rockets fired this week from Lebanese launching sites have fallen short of the border, but most have landed in Israel's nine-mile-wide self-declared "security zone" north of the frontier. Israel has asserted that the barrage was an attempt by the PLO to open a second front in support of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.
The raid followed two days of Israeli artillery and air strikes on Palestinian targets in southern Lebanon and came just hours before Lebanese army forces began deploying in the southern port of Tyre -- a move seen as an attempt by the new Beirut government and its Syrian backers to reassert control over guerrillas in the area north of the Israeli security zone.