News from Beirut September 6 1997 ...Search

Foiled commando operation boosts Lebanon's morale

Lebanon's leading newspapers today said the heroism of the Lebanese Army and resistance fighters was able to defeat the Israeli invaders, and wipe out their entire commando unit.

The Israeli operation in south Lebanon, which was designed to revive Israel's security superiority after the recent Jerusalem bombing, was transformed into a new and an unprecedented setback never experienced since 1982. The Lebanese people feel proud and their morale is high. But some expect more Israeli attacks, believing that Netanyahu has either to change his policy, or wage up a new large-scale operation, press reports said.

Most dailies said the total failure of the recent commando operation once again proved the collapse of the theory of Israel's unbeatable army. House Speaker Nabih Berri, on the other hand, said the operation aimed at easing the tension and frustration felt by the Israeli public.

News editorials said Israel's officials did not disclose the target of the Zahrani operation even to the families of their dead soldiers, neither were they able to justify it before the world's public opinion.

What did it aim at?

Security reports said the target of the Zahrani operation could have either been the Amal Movement South Lebanon command office located at about 500 meters from the landing site, or the nearby residence of Shiite Mufti Abdel Amir Qabalan.

Israel said the operation was delicate, and could have made a great security achievement against Hizbullah. Lebanese government sources, on the other hand, said it is not known what the Israeli target was, but described what happened as an inevitable result of Netanyahu's hardline policy. The sources excluded the possibility that the operation was an immediate reaction to the bombing in Jerusalem. They however emphasized that the matter can only be resolved in a political way.

In the same context, UNIFIL's spokesman Timor Goksel yesterday said he does not know the target of the operation, noting that the landing took place at an area located some 30 kilometers from the security zone. Israel's Defense Minister Yitzhac Mordakhai in an interview with the Israeli T.V said all precautions were taken to ensure success of the operation, but said he does not know what happened. He said the operation was supposed to take place in an area where the level of alert was low. Yet, asked if what happened was bad luck or a result of the confrontation with Hizbullah, he said there were successes and there were painful events, as in the operation yesterday, and this is a continuing war not only in the South but inside Lebanon too.

Different stories

Press reports today carried different explanations to what took place at the scene of the clash. One version said an explosive device immediately detonated upon the landing of the Israeli commando unit made it vulnerable to mortar and machine-gun fires from different directions. And when an additional force tried to intervene, it clashed for three hours with the Lebanese Army units, and the resistance fighters of both, Amal Movement and Hizbullah. Another version said commando unit fell in an ambush set up by the resistance. A third said the Israeli unit itself  was carrying a large number of explosive devices for the purpose of planting them somewhere in the area. One possibility was the command base of Amal Movement. But for one reason or another, the said devices exploded by mistake, thus revealing the whereabouts of the raiding unit.

Clarifying the matter, Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah yesterday revealed in a press conference that explosive devices earlier planted by the resistance had exploded in the landing force.

On the other hand, Amal Movement official Ahmad Baalbaki yesterday said the Israeli force fell in an ambush proceeding to blow up Amal Movement's quarter at Nsariyyeh. Amal Movement leader House Speaker Nabih Berri in Nabatieh said the same.

A Lebanese Army communique yesterday also said that the Army fired flare parachutes over the Israeli attackers, to confuse them. Israel's military command, 12 hours after early news of the failure of the operation, admitted the fact and said the commando elite unit confronted, while advancing to its target, resistance fighters and a Lebanese Army force in the area. The heavy fire and explosions targeting the unit, led to killing and wounding them all, except the communication man who managed to call for help. A rescue team readily intervened and pulled out the bodies of the soldiers.

Other stories said the raiding elite unit was wearing as camouflage, military uniforms similar to the ones used by Hizbullah and the Lebanese, and was airlifted from the Israeli navy vessels to the Nsariyyeh citrus gardens by helicopters.

No captives, only shreds, Nasrallah says

Hizbullah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said the Israeli defeat at Nsariyyeh was the biggest incurred by an Israeli commando force since the creation of Israel. He estimated the Israeli casualties at 15 killed and 20 wounded, and said there are no Israeli captives but shreds of soldiers that could be traded for detainees in the Israeli jails.

In a press conference yesterday, Nasrallah also hailed the 5 resistance fighter earlier Killed in the Kfour operation, and said they were the reason behind the constant monitoring of possible targets, including the one used by the raiding Isreali unit at Nsariyyeh.

He also hailed the suicide bombers who carried the recent Jerusalem bombing and said the commando operation was not sudden, but took place after the second bombing in Jerusalem in order to restore the Israeli image. Similarly, he said, the Kfour operation was also timed to take place after the first Jerusalem bombing.

"The target of Israel's operation yesterday was a civilian and not military area, perhaps because they wanted to plant the explosive devices during the night in order to blow it up in day time", he said. "Sending the special elite force to plant explosives inside Lebanon indicates there are no Lebanese collaborators or they are not trusted, and that means our society is more immune".

Nasrallah also expected Lebanese Army posts to be targeted by future retaliatory revenge actions by Israel, and said the operation was a clear violation of the April understanding aiming at halting the explosive charges of the resistance in exchange with the ones planted by Israel in the liberated areas.

After the conference, Hizbullah displayed shreds of Israeli soldiers comprising two barefoot of one soldier, another in military a shoe, a third with shrapnel, the remains of one hand, some teeth, a brain and a number of military equipment and rifles.

US urges all parties to exercise restraint

A US State Department spokesman urged all parties concerned to exercise utmost self-restraint "in view of the delicate situation in the Middle East".

Asked about the role the Lebanese Army played in Friday's fighting, he said he does not think the Lebanese army participated effectively in that fighting.

On whether the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will visit Lebanon during her upcoming visit to the region, he said Mrs. Albright did not take that decision yet. Earlier reports said the US State Department has prepared files on Lebanon following a decision by Albright to pay a quick visit to Lebanon. But recent developments might have induced her to change her mind. US reliable sources said it would be surprising if Albright decides not to visit Lebanon, since the last events had made her visit more urgent.

Hrawi promises to extend benefits of nationality law

President Elias Hrawi, speaking to Lebanese origin community in Sao Paolo before leaving to Rio de Janeiro, said strife could strike at almost every aspect, but not the coexistence. He portrayed the achievements made during the past years and said all Lebanon will be free and sovereign. Hrawi said there is no fear for Lebanon and there is no time for personal feuds. He said he would start to develop cultural relation and establish Arabic cultural branch in Brazil's universities.

He said, "after Brazil's federal government allowed emigrants to have a dual nationality, my present to you is to extend the benefits of the Lebanese nationality law to include all those who immigrated since the Ottoman era and the first World War".

News Briefs

-Patriarch Sfeir speaking to visiting delegations yesterday called both the Christians and Muslims to benefit from the values they share to enhance their coexistence. The patriarch said that despite the problems Lebanon is facing, "we still hope for a better future built by all the Lebanese". He also said these problems should not deter the Lebanese in diaspora from returning to their homeland.

-Australia's new South Wales Premier and an accompanying delegation including Lebanese origin Deputy Edward Obeid are expected to arrive in Beirut tomorrow. Some local reports said Obeid has met in Sydney in public the coordinator of Israeli activities in Lebanon Uri Lubrani.

-The National Liberal Party (NLP) after a meeting presided over by Dori Chamoun, said there is no way out of the cycle of violence in the region except through a firm stand by the United States. The party also wished Mrs. Albright would visit Lebanon to comfort the people, and signals that there exists a sovereign and free state.

-Greek Orthodox Patriarch Hazim said no one comes to the region for our sake, but all come to help Israel.

-Former Prime Minister Omar Karami said he rejects any increase of taxes, especially those effecting the poor and middle classes. On another note, Karami said naturalizing Lebanese origin immigrants is another tragedy, as this has begun to create differences between the Lebanese. He said article two of the nationality law is clear. It says that if an immigrant wishes to return back and reside in Lebanon, he should be given the nationality. But, as to the immigrants who reside in Australia or Brazil, in addition to the third generation that does not know Arabic, have no links with Lebanon, and do not want Lebanon's nationality, "do we have to give it for him by force". Karami said the issue is one of gaining morale before the end of President Harwi's mandate in office, but things are not run that way.

-Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente during a farewell reception, granted decorations to friendly figures in the name of the Pope. Those granted the medals include former foreign minister Fouad Boutros, two nuns who aided him during his mission, former minister Pierre Pharaon, MP Nabil Boustani, Daoud Sayegh, Leila Habre Saqre, former minister George Afram, Maroun Haimari, May Kahaleh, Red Cross Chief Michel Harrouk, former central bank governor Michel Khoury and others.

-The Palestinian refugees' sit-ins off UNRWA offices in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon is in its fifth day now. The protest was against UNRWA decline of services. Palestinian groups in Lebanon called for a general strike on Tuesday, and said the day will be an anger day against UNRWA's policy.


-Nijmeh football team is to play tomorrow with Ittihad-Qatari at the Bourj Hammoud stadium.

-Safa is to play today with Homentmen, and the Riyada wal Adab will play tomorrow with Homentmen.

-Bourj football team beat Sahel 2-1in the second week of Lebanon football dawri.

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