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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Israel's raid in the Bekaa Valley
Saturday's raid by Israeli commandos in eastern Lebanon was carried out by officers from Israel's General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), known as "The Unit".

Military debris left after fighting in Bodai
Military debris was found after fighting near the village of Bodai
It is generally considered the Israeli Defense Forces' most elite special forces unit. Its primary function is to penetrate deep into enemy territory to gather field intelligence.

Such raids are top-secret and little has been reported in the Israeli press. However a number of details have emerged, mostly from Lebanon.

According to reports, two helicopters landed under cover of darkness, just before dawn, in a cornfield near the village of Bodai.

The hilltop village lies some 27km (17 miles) from the Syrian border and 20km (12 miles) west of the town Baalbek, which witnessed some fierce fighting during the recent conflict.

Both are situated in the Bekaa Valley, which is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.

According to reports, the Israeli Air Force flew F-16 fighters over the area, in mock air raids, to drown out the noise of the helicopters.

Questioning

Two military vehicles, believed to have been Humvees, were unloaded. Local people said they saw the Israelis came down from the hills in two jeeps.

Map of the area of the raid
It is not known how many Israeli took part in the operation on the ground but the AFP news agency quoted one local man as saying it was fewer than 30.

AFP said the men were dressed in Lebanese army uniforms. The unit was said to have been intercepted by Hezbollah guerrillas who questioned the men briefly. But when they responded in Arabic, the guerrillas were said to have become suspicious of their identity because of the men's accents.

It said the guerrillas sounded the alarm and a clash erupted.

One Israeli officer was killed and two other officers were wounded in what unnamed Israeli military sources quoted by Haaretz newspaper said was a fierce battle:

"We had great luck that the operation didn't result in 10 fatalities from the force."

The BBC's John Leyne, who visited the scene of the attack, said the Israelis seemed to have run into much fiercer resistance than they anticipated before they were extracted by helicopter.

'Target'

He said he saw blood and bandages on the ground, near where the helicopters landed. He said this indicated that medical treatment would have to have been hurried.

According to eyewitnesses, fighter jets provided cover for the helicopters. It is thought the operation was over by 6am.

It was reported that Hezbollah sustained several casualties in the incident, although the organisation has denied this. The Israelis said the aim of the operation was to prevent arms being smuggled from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah.

However, Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the intended target of the unit was senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, who is originally from the mountain village of Bodai.




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