IDF ground forces pushed deeper into Lebanon on Tuesday after troops succeeded in sealing off the Hizbullah stronghold of Bint Jbail following 48 hours of intense battles with the guerilla group.
The Nahal Brigade, IDF sources confirmed, was gearing up along the eastern border with Lebanon in preparation for a ground incursion to take over additional Hizbullah-run villages.
In fighting that was described as heroic by Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsh, commander of Division 91, soldiers from the Golani and Paratrooper Brigades took up positions around the town of Bint Jbail clashing with Hizbullah and killed close to 50 gunmen. In Maroun al-Ras, another village in southern Lebanon, IDF troops killed five Hizbullah gunmen, including the organization's regional commander. Three soldiers were lightly wounded in the clashes and were evacuated under fire to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
Throughout the day, 96 Katyusha rockets were fired at northern Israel. Da'a Abbas, 15, was killed when a rocket made a direct hit on her home in the village of Maghar in the Galilee.
Hirsch revealed that troops operating in Bint Jbail had discovered war rooms with eavesdropping and surveillance equipment made by Iran, being used by Hizbullah against Israel. They also found large cache of weapons and communications devices.
"The town is completely controlled by us," Col. Amnon Eshel Assulin, commander of the IDF Armored Brigade 7, told The Jerusalem Post. "No one came come in or out without our permission." The IDF's success in taking Bint Jbail, considered the Hizbullah's "terror capital" in southern Lebanon, proved, Assulim said, the military's ability to reach any location in Lebanon, even Beirut if the government decided on that course of action.
Soldiers, Hirsh said, planned to take several bodies of dead guerrillas captive. He said that there were still pockets of resistance on the outskirts of the village, and most of the Hizbullah guerrillas left inside, just under 100, were hiding in the Kasbah marketplace.
The IDF was still encountering Hizbullah gunmen who were shooting from inside mosques, hospitals, and schools. "They take advantage of the population," Assulin said. "But the IDF has high moral values and does its best to avoid harming anyone uninvolved."
The operation in Bint Jbail, initially slated to take 48-72 hours, would last as long as necessary to kill all the Hizbullah terrorists and destroy the infrastructure there, Assulin said. "Two tank battalions fought bravely, killed terrorists, and evacuated their wounded comrades from the battlefield," he told the Post when describing the fighting in Bint Jbail. He said that infantry battalions were working cohesively with tanks, and that "one could not exist without the other."
Lt.-Col. Avi Mano, commander of the Keren artillery battalion, told the Post that his cannons had fired 3000 shells at Bint Jbail since the beginning of operations there earlier this week. Mano said artillery cannons were capable of making direct hits on houses and other targets, while causing more damage than Katyusha rockets cause in Israel.
"One of our significant accomplishments is that we are helping infantry troops in Lebanon fulfill their mission by providing them with artillery cover fire," Mano said.
Meanwhile Tuesday, IAF fighter jets bombarded Beirut in one of the first strikes in the city for nearly two days. A series of at least five heavy blasts were heard in the capital and a cloud billowed up from the southern district, a Hizbullah stronghold that has been heavily bombarded in the past. The IDF confirmed it had destroyed 10 buildings in the Lebanese capital including a vital target, but would not say what the target was.
The quick succession of blasts set off car alarms in central Beirut, kilometers from the southern neighborhood of Dahiyah, and sirens were heard. More, smaller explosions followed, then came a fifth powerful blast. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Earlier, IAF aircraft destroyed a Hizbullah Katyusha launcher that fired 16 rockets at Haifa less than an hour before, wounding 23 people. The strike was the latest in a series of IAF offensives against Hizbullah targets on Tuesday morning. In the first few hours of daylight, the IAF struck 15 Katyusha launch sites in south Lebanon.
In addition, the IDF destroyed 18 Hizbullah buildings in Tyre, six weapons warehouses throughout Lebanon and two cars suspected of carrying Hizbullah operatives near Tyre.