Lebanese guerrillas on a hostage-taking mission killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded four in the fiercest clash in south Lebanon since Israel withdrew in 1985, military sources reported today.
They said the Israeli troops were patrolling the rocky slopes of Mt. Hermon, northeast of the Israeli border town of Metulla, when guerrillas from the Lebanese National Resistance Front opened fire at close range on Tuesday night.
"Our force was on a search operation in the south Lebanon security zone when it ran into guerrillas attempting to infiltrate into Israel," a senior officer told armed forces radio.
"It was very rough terrain, with plenty of hiding places. We think both sides were surprised to meet each other there, at such short range."
After the fire fight heavy reinforcements were sent into the area backed by helicopter gunships and Israeli aircraft lighting the sky with flares, security sources said.
A large-scale search operation went on for more than six hours while Israeli artillery pounded the surrounding hillsides, Israel radio reported.
Search parties captured a wounded guerrilla who told them he belonged to the Syrian-backed LNRF, which was joined on the mission by pro-Syrian Palestinians, military sources reported.