At least five Israeli soldiers were killed and six wounded today in clashes with Muslim guerrillas in south Lebanon, security sources said. Two Lebanese men were killed in the Israeli retaliation, police said.
The security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity from an enclave Israel occupies in south Lebanon, said the victims were evacuated by helicopters to northern Israel. They said the guerrillas belonged to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, which has been fighting to evict Israel from its occupied zone in south Lebanon.
Security sources in a U.N.-policed area straddling the occupied enclave confirmed the Israeli casualties, but there was no immediate word from the Israeli army.
Two Lebanese men, including an army soldier, were later killed when Israeli tanks and artillery retaliated by bombarding Shiite Muslim villages and paths around the Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, police in Nabatiyeh said.
The reported death toll makes today’s shootout the deadliest in the area since a U.S.-brokered cease-fire halted Israel’s 16-day bombing blitz against the Lebanon-based guerrillas in April.
Four Israelis - three army officers and one soldier - were killed in a guerrilla ambush on the day Israeli voters elected hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister on May 29.
A U.N. spokesman in south Lebanon called Monday’s fighting heavy.
“Our position observed a clash of a major magnitude breaking out in the Ali Taher area in south Lebanon in the early morning hours. Israeli helicopters were seen evacuating casualties,” spokesman Timur Goksel said.
“But due to bad visibility, U.N. observation posts could not determine the number of victims,” he added.
Hezbollah guerrillas are spearheading a campaign to dislodge Israel from the occupied enclave it has held in south Lebanon since 1985 to protect its northern towns from cross-border guerrilla raids.