Lebanon Gives Warning After Israeli Raid
Israeli Commando Dies in Raid on Hezbollah Stronghold; Lebanon Threatens to Halt Deployment
Coffins draped with Hezbollah flags of fighters, who died in south Lebanon during the offensive with Israel, are carried aloft by their comrades during a mass funeral procession in Bouj El Barajneh suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2006. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
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By SAM F. GHATTAS
BEIRUT, Lebanon Aug 19, 2006 (AP)— Israeli commandos raided a Hezbollah stronghold deep inside Lebanon Saturday, sparking a fierce clash with militants that left one Israeli soldier dead. Lebanon called the raid a "flagrant violation" of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire, while Israel said it was aimed at disrupting arms smuggling from Iran and Syria.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr threatened to halt the army's deployment in south Lebanon if the United Nations does not take up the issue of the raid. A stop to the deployment would deeply damage efforts to move in an international force to strengthen the cease-fire.
"If there are no clear answers forthcoming on this issue, I might be forced to recommend to the Cabinet early next week the halt of the army deployment in the south," Murr told reporters after a meeting with U.N. representatives.
Witnesses also said Israeli missiles destroyed a bridge during the raid in what would be the first such airstrike since the cease-fire took effect on Monday, ending 34 days of warfare between the two sides.
The fighting did not appear to be escalating, but it highlighted the fragility of the 6-day-old truce as the United Nations pleaded for nations to contribute to an international peacekeeping force due to patrol southern Lebanon.
The Israeli military said such operations would continue until "an effective monitoring unit" was in place to prevent Hezbollah from rebuilding its arsenal.
"If the Syrians and Iran continue to arm Hezbollah in violation of the (U.N. cease-fire) resolution, Israel is entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "Once the Lebanese army and the international forces are active … then such Israeli activity will become superfluous."
The first small contingent of reinforcements for the peacekeeping force 49 French soldiers landed Saturday in inflatable dinghies at the southern Lebanese coastal town of Naqoura, with 200 more expected next week.
But Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said more countries need to step forward to fill out a vanguard of 3,500 troops that the U.N. wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to help ensure that the truce between Israel and Lebanon holds after 34 days of warfare.