Israeli Ground Forces Meet Stiff Opposition

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The New York Sun

JERUSALEM — Two Israeli soldiers were killed and 12 injured in southern Lebanon yesterday as they encountered strong resistance from Hezbollah, denting their hopes of swiftly neutralizing the Shiite militia’s missiles.

Fierce clashes occurred as the Israel Defense Force moved deeper into Lebanon to besiege Bint Jbail, a town close to the border.

Following an intense artillery barrage, Israeli troops said they had taken control of a hilltop over the town, although Israeli officials claimed that their forces had taken the town three days ago. However, most of the town and the ridge that commands the surrounding terrain were still in the hands of Hezbollah as darkness fell.

Meanwhile, an Israeli helicopter crashed in northern Israel, injuring two on board. It is believed to have clipped an electricity cable, although Hezbollah claimed it shot the aircraft down.

From the Israeli side of the border, nearly constant gunfire and explosions could be heard coming from southern Lebanon and plumes of gray smoke rose over the area. Hezbollah guerrillas fired mortars into northern Israel and anti-tank missiles at Israeli forces.

Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers were seen heading over the rocky hills toward the battle.

Two tanks also came in the other direction at high speed, carrying wounded soldiers, who were collected by civilian ambulances that sped off, sirens blaring.

The Israeli military said it captured two Hezbollah guerrillas.

The bravado of only a few days ago, when officials spoke confidently of the total destruction of Hezbollah’s arsenal and of targeting its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has been tempered by meeting unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Shiite group, while doubts have been expressed in the Israeli press about the military’s tactics, intelligence, and reliance on airstrikes.

Israel’s public security minister, Avi Dichter, said the army believed it had only a week for its assault before an international deal would force it to stop. “From an Israeli perspective, the target is not to totally dismantle Hezbollah,” he said. “What we are doing now is to try to send a message to Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, hoping that somehow we’ll succeed in setting up a new situation between Israel and Hezbollah.” The Israeli ambassador to America told the Washington Post over the weekend that Israel would consider dealing with a demilitarized Hezbollah.

Polls showed over the weekend that the Israeli public overwhelmingly supports military action, but its optimism has been dampened.

“The continuation of the Katyusha rocket fire and military difficulties on the ground have brought the public closer to the realization that expectations were excessive,” the Hebrew-language daily newspaper Yediot Achronot said.

Ma’ariv, another daily, raised concerns that Hezbollah could well win the propaganda war. “Olmert [the Israeli premier] also knows that when the fighting ends, Hassan Nasrallah will emerge from his lair, adjust his turban, and shake off the dust. [He will] say, ‘We made a brave stand against the mighty Zionist army — and we beat it.'”

On the day after Israeli troops ended their occupation in 2000, Sheik Nasrallah went directly to Bint Jbail, nicknamed the “capital of the resistance” for his first celebration rally.

Yesterday, some of the town’s people were sheltering in their homes. Many have already left.

“The mujahedeen are confronting the enemy army, which is backed by airborne commandos and is trying to advance north of the village of Marun Al-Ras toward Bint Jbeil,” the Shiite militant group said.

The Israeli military hit the Rashidiyeh camp, one of a dozen Palestinian Arab refugee camps in Lebanon, with artillery fire, prompting Palestinian Arabs in the area to say they may join the battle.

The New York Sun

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