Israelis Raid 2 Lebanon Villages Days Before Pullout Is to End
Israel continued Monday to use its powerful military forces against alleged Arab terrorists in southern Lebanon, operating with an allied militia to close off and search two Muslim villages suspected of sheltering guerrillas.
The raids came even though Israeli troops are supposed to be completely out of the Arab state by Thursday.
In an all-day operation, United Nations and government sources said, Israeli troops and armored vehicles, along with members of the South Lebanon Army militia, closed off the two villages, just above the Lebanese border in the so-called security zone created by Israel to protect its northern border communities from attack.
According to Timor Goksel, spokesman for U.N. peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon, the Israeli-supported militia and the Israeli troops rounded up 160 men in the villages of Majdel Selm and Althamriyah for questioning about recent attacks on Israeli troops and on South Lebanon Army positions.
About 40 Arrested
About 40 of the men were arrested, Goksel said in a telephone interview, and were taken in Israeli army trucks to an unknown destination. U.N. troops reported that four Israeli tanks, 23 armored personnel carriers and 30 other vehicles were involved in the operation, Goksel said.
The size of the force was unusually large given the supposed pace of the Israeli troop withdrawal, which army sources said last week had greatly reduced the strength of units in the area.
This gave rise to speculation either that Israel had misstated its force levels to see if the guerrillas would be tempted to attack or that Israel will move large forces across the border into Lebanon to bolster its militia allies even in relatively routine operations.
Israel’s position has been that it will keep only a handful of advisers and observers in Lebanon after its final pullout and that while it will provide logistical and training support to the South Lebanon Army, it will not use troops to back up the militia unless it is threatened by “large, outside forces,” presumably Syrian.
5 Houses Blown Up
After the arrested men were taken away, five houses in Majdel Selm were blown up to punish the occupants for hiding weapons or shielding the alleged guerrillas. The destruction of the homes of friends or relatives of suspects is a common tactic of Israeli troops in Lebanon and other occupied lands.
In Monday’s incident, the third and largest such operation in the last month, the South Lebanon Army, a largely Christian force of about 1,500, posted a warning to the residents of the two Muslim villages.
According to Israeli officials, the army told the residents that if they continued to shield Muslim fighters, “they would suffer to the point of having to leave the area and live as refugees elsewhere.”
Some diplomatic sources said the raid also was in retaliation for the capture or defection of 25 militiamen, who disappeared Saturday from a checkpoint near Majdel Selm.
The men were described by the sources as Shia Muslims who had been forced to join the Israeli-backed force. The diplomats said there was good evidence that they defected to the Shia Amal militia forces who are trying to take control of the territory being abandoned by Israel.