Israel Says Lebanon Operation Over, 3 Israelis, More Than 40 Guerrillas Killed
RASHAYA, Lebanon (AP) _ Israeli forces shelled a Syrian-held town and battled pro-Iranian guerrillas today and then announced that the Israeli drive into southern Lebanon had ended.
Israel reported that three Israelis and more than 40 Arab guerrillas were killed.
The Israeli military said in a statement issued late today in Jerusalem that the two-day operation had ended and all participating Israeli forces had returned to their bases.
The Israeli military statement said 17 Israelis were wounded. It said most of the Arab guerrillas killed were members of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most radical Shiite Moslem faction.
The army statement said Hezbollah guerrillas had expelled all the residents from the village of Maydoun, some 12 miles north of the Israeli border, and were using the village as a launching point for attacks on Israeli forces and their Lebanese militia allies.
Dozens of Hezbollah guerrillas were in Maydoun when the fighting started today, the Israeli army command said. It said helicopter gunships and Israeli artillery destroyed the guerrillas’ artillery and vehicles with mounted anti- aircraft guns.
Israel identified two of the dead troopers as Capt. Boaz Ravid of Beit Ovad and Sgt. Marco Bernstein of Nahariya. The name of third dead Israeli was not immediately made public.
Security sources in south Lebanon said earlier today that the Israeli soldiers died when the army stormed Shiite guerrilla bases.
A police spokesman, who like the security sources spoke on condition of anonymity, said seven guerrillas were killed in the shootout around the villages of Maydoun and Ein el-Tineh in the southwestern sector of the Bekaa Valley.
The villages are five miles south of the town of Mashghara, where police said a 50-man Syrian garrison came under Israeli howitzer fire.
There was no immediate word on any Syrian casualties, and it was not known if the Syrians responded to the Israeli shellfire.
Mashghara is four miles west of the Israelis’ forward positions and is the Syrians’ southern outpost in the western Bekaa.
The action was the first contact between the Syrians, who have 16,000 troops in the Bekaa, and the Israelis since they pushed out of their self- designated border ″security zone″ Monday night to knock out guerrilla bases.
It was also the first time the Syrians have come under Israeli fire in Lebanon since they were forced from south Lebanon in heavy fighting when the Israelis invaded in June 1982.
An Israeli armored column stormed bases manned by guerrillas of Hezbollah in hills overlooking Maydoun and Ein el-Tineh.
The villages are nine miles west of five villages the Israelis sealed off Tuesday and searched for Palestinian guerrillas and allied Lebanese militiamen.
U.N. spokesman Timur Goksel said U.N. spotters saw an Israeli helicopter exchange fire with guerrillas in a dry riverbed southeast of Maydoun about 4:30 a.m. He said he could not confirm Lebanese reports a helicopter was shot down.
The police spokesman said gunners of the Lebanese army later opened up on Israeli tanks with Soviet-made 130mm howitzers deployed near Lake Qaroun, about six miles east of Maydoun.
Security sources in south Lebanon reported that Israel sent two more mechanized battalions into the area during the night, doubling the size of their force to about 2,500 troops.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Tuesday he did not expect the operation to provoke a confrontation with Syria, Israel’s staunchest enemy. The Israeli operation in Lebanon is its largest in two years.
The clashes in southern Lebanon occurred as Palestinian protesters virtually shut down the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip with a general strike.
At least 180 Arabs have been killed since the unrest began in the occupied territories Dec. 8. An Israeli soldier and a Jewish teen-age settler also have been slain.
Police said hundreds of civilians fled villages near the security zone during today’s fighting.
Reporters in the Bekaa saw dozens of villagers carrying belongings, blankets and mattresses heading for safer areas behind the Syrian lines.
Shortly after today’s advance, 500 Israeli soldiers began withdrawing from five Bekaa Valley villages. A police spokesman said the Israelis began pulling out of Ain Ata, Memis, Kfeer, Khalwat and Ain Zeta after ″completing the search.″
The spokesman said the Israelis rounded up several Lebanese militiamen allied with the Palestinians in the five villages and seized ″large quantities of weapons and ammunition.″
A resident of Khiam told reporters Israeli soldiers detained 30 men in the village Tuesday. The Israeli army declined comment.
The Lebanese spokesman said the Israelis used police dogs in house-to-house searches in Ain Ata and nearby villages and called on the population ″not to cooperate with saboteurs and accomplices.″
Israel set up the security zone after it withdrew the bulk of its army from Lebanon in 1985, three years after invading its northern neighbor.