Sunday, August 20, 2006

IDF DRESSED AS LEBANESE SOLDIERS--Israel raid violates cease-fire, UN says

International Herald Tribune

Israel raid violates cease-fire, UN says
Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press, The New York Times

Published: August 20, 2006

BOUDAI, Lebanon Israel's weekend commando raid on a Hezbollah stronghold deep in Lebanon has put the fragile Middle East truce to its biggest test so far, with Lebanon threatening to halt the deployment of its army to the south and the United Nations chief, Kofi Annan, labeling the operation a breach of the cease-fire.

Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos landed near the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek on Saturday and engaged in a lengthy firefight. The Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, called the incursion a "flagrant violation" of the week- old, UN-brokered cease-fire.

The office of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, issued a statement late Saturday saying the action violated the hard-won agreement.


"The secretary general is deeply concerned about a violation by the Israeli side of the cessation of hostilities," said the statement, issued by a UN spokesman, St├ęphane Dujarric.

"All such violations of Security Council Resolution 1701 endanger the fragile calm that was reached after much negotiation."

In Washington, the White House declined to criticize the raid, noting that Israel said it had acted in reaction to arms smuggling into Lebanon and that the UN resolution calls for the prevention of resupplying Hezbollah with weapons.

"The incident underscores the importance of quickly deploying the enhanced Unifil," a White House spokeswoman, Jeanie Mamo, said, referring to a force of 15,000 UN peacekeeping troops called for by the cease-fire agreement to police the truce.

The Israelis said that "the aim of the operation had been to disrupt terrorist activities against Israel and to prevent arms from being transported to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria." Any such resupply effort would itself violate the cease-fire resolution passed last Monday by the UN Security Council.

The raid took place overnight under the cover of sonic booms from Israeli jets flying overhead, which occur often over Lebanon. But this time they provided cover to mask the sound of helicopters bringing in the commando unit and two Humvee vehicles. Villagers said the soldiers were dressed in Lebanese Army uniforms.

The success of the effort was a matter of dispute.

One Israeli special operations officer was killed and two commandos were wounded, one seriously, but an Israeli Army spokesman in Jerusalem said the mission's "objectives had been attained in full."

Villagers said otherwise.

"They failed completely," said Sadiq Hamdi, 36, a scrap-iron dealer. "They were still on the road when the Hezbollah came upon them. They did not take 1 percent of what they were trying to do."

The Israeli Army said it would continue such raids until "proper monitoring bodies are established on the Lebanese borders," another task for the UN forces in Lebanon. On Friday, a top Israeli commander warned that Israel would interdict any resupply efforts and vowed to kill the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

Lebanon's defense minister, Elias Murr, said that if Israel carried out any more raids, he would ask the cabinet to halt the Lebanese Army's deployment in the south.

That deployment - now being bolstered by UN peacekeeping forces - is the cornerstone of the cease-fire, and ending it could end the fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah that has held since Monday.

"We have put the matter forward in a serious manner and the UN delegation was understanding of the seriousness of the situation," Murr said. "We are awaiting an answer."

Suleiman Chamas, 38, the mayor of this village, surrounded by tobacco fields about 16 kilometers, or 10 miles, west of Baalbek, gave the following account: Disguised commandos landed in the eastern foothills of the Mount Lebanon range, loaded into Humvees and drove east on a road called Ayoun Semman, where they encountered a roadblock manned by local Hezbollah fighters.

The commandos shouted in Arabic, "Peace be with you, we're one of yours," and tried to drive past the roadblock without stopping.


The fighters started shooting and gave chase. The commandos turned off onto a dirt road, and a gun battle broke out, drawing more villagers.

"The whole village came down, both those who could shoot and those who cannot," Chamas said.

About 40 minutes later, fighter jets and helicopters fired rockets and evacuated the commandos, leaving two fresh craters in the rich red Bekaa Valley soil.

Left behind were large bloodstains, syringes and surgical masks, indicating casualties, and what the villagers believed was some kind of device to guide the helicopters in. Villagers said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side.

Yahya Ali, 30, wearing a red shirt and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, was one of a number of villagers who said the Israeli commandos were dressed like Lebanese soldiers.


He said they were wearing the mostly green woodland camouflage uniforms that are standard issue for the Lebanese Army, similar to what was used until recently by the U.S. Army, along with olive-green flak jackets and green helmets, also standard issue here.


Israeli soldiers wear a brownish uniform in a single color along with brown body armor and helmets.

Ali said he could see the uniforms clearly because in the rescue the helicopters and Humvees had bright lights turned on.


The boldness of the raid in the midst of the cease-fire suggested that the Israelis might have had some major objective in mind, perhaps the rescue of their two abducted comrades or the capture of a major Hezbollah figure.

Boudai is the home village of Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah leader in the Bekaa Valley and a member of the group's Shura Council. But the mayor and others say he is rarely here these days.

The village had been the scene Friday of a big funeral for a Hezbollah guerrilla, Mahmoud Ahmed Asef, who was killed fighting in Bint Jbail. Such funerals sometimes draw leaders.

In Israel, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Mark Regev, said, "If the Syrians and the Iranians continue to arm Hezbollah in violation of the resolution, Israel is entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo."

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