Thousands of IDF Troops Operating in S. Lebanon

Soldiers searching for Hezbollah tunnels; army says Hezbollah militants hiding in tunnels with rockets.

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Two IDF soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in heavy clashes with Hezbollah just inside south Lebanon, close to Moshav Avivim, on Thursday afternoon.

Hezbollah fired mortar shells in the area in effort to disrupt the rescue of the wounded. The IDF believes that several Hezbollah guerillas were killed in the close-quarter confrontation.

A pilot was killed and three others were injured late Thursday night when two IDF Apache helicopters collided in northern Israel, near Kiryat Shmona.

Firefighters rushed to the scene of the collision on a mountain overlooking Kiryat Shmona to put out a fire that broke out.

Major-General Benny Gantz, who serves as the head of the Ground Forces Command, said on Thursday that ground fighting in limited areas in Lebanon would continue despite the IDF's causalties.

Hezbollah bunkers are well-hidden and discernible only from a close distance, said Gantz. "The operation is challenging, difficult and complex. Unfortunately, there is the price of casualties, but the other side, unlike us, doesn't report their casualties," he added.

Thousands of Israeli troops are operating in south Lebanon where they are targetting Hezbollah positions. Among their activities, they are searching for tunnels dug by Hezbollah militants. According to the army, Hezbollah fighters have taken refuge inside these tunnels - often dug under homes in villages - along with their rockets, and that they occasionally emerge to fire one into Israel.

On Thursday morning, three IDF soldiers were wounded in two separate clashes with Hezbollah in the same area.

Two of the soldiers were wounded, one moderately and the other lightly, when a rocket hit a tank.

A third soldier from a paratroop unit was seriously wounded in fighting with a Hezbollah cell.

The soldier sustained head injuries and was taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

The army said Thursday's clashes broke out not far from where Hezbollah killed two IDF troops and wounded nine others Wednesday.

Four civilians were killed in an Israel Air Force strike on a car in the southern coastal city of Tyre.

Earlier Thursday, IAF jets renewed air strikes on Beirut's southern suburbs, Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV reported.

Al-Manar's report of the attack on the Bir al-Abed neighborhood came after a relatively quiet night in Beirut, following the massive Wednesday evening attack by IAF jets on what the military believed was a bunker used by senior Hezbollah leaders, including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Bir al-Abed.

Army chief tells troops fighting may last a long time Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told IDF troops that the fighting in the north may go on for an extended period of time. In his first missive since the start of the recent conflict with Hezbollah, Halutz stated that, "We are responsible for defending our independence and the integrity of our country."

"The State of Israel is in the midst of fighting an extremist Islamic terrorist organization that denies our right to exist, and is operating under the auspices of Iran and Syria, which aim to threaten Israel's sovereignty. The fighting was aggravated after provocations by Hezbollah and Hamas, which carried out terrorist attacks in Israeli territory, in which a number of IDF fighters were killed and Corporal Gilad Shalit and reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted. We are responsible for defending our country's independence and sovereignty, and for the security of its citizens.

"The fighting in the north was added to the fighting in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and may continue for an extended period of time. This is a test for us. Our moral and ideological strength will reflect on the country's citizens and will aid their ability to face the threat on the home front. The society's strength and the trust has in the IDF strengthens us and will continue to do so. We will do whatever it takes to maintain the state's security.

"The terrorist groups misread the map and misinterpreted the resolve of Israeli society and the IDF. The army is operating on the Lebanese front to destroy terrorist infrastructure and terrorist-supporting infrastructure. We hit and will hit Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon, as well as the organization's rockets, while hitting Palestinian terror.

"You - the dedicated and determined soldiers and commanders - who remain true to the mission and operate according to the IDF spirit, will continue to serve as the source of strength for the IDF and the basis for our success. A strong IDF serves as a security network for our country's continued existence.

"I send my condolences to the families who paid the heavy price of losing a loved one, wish a speedy recovery to the wounded, and support the families of our abducted soldiers. We are trying to bring our boys home.

"IDF soldiers and commanders - we carry the flag of security and defend the borders of the state of Israel. Together we will continue to carry out our missions with diligence, wisdom and resolve."

Halutz warns Hezbollah wants war of attrition with Israel Halutz warned the security cabinet on Wednesday that Hezbollah wants to drag Israel into a war of attrition in Lebanon, whereas Israel wants "a short and forceful war."

His comments came as two Israeli children were killed by a rocket in Nazareth and two IDF soldiers were killed and nine wounded in clashes with Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon.

"They realize that prolonged attrition causes internal pressure from Israeli citizens and international pressure, and think that those are our weak points," Halutz said, adding that Hezbollah wants the fighting to extend over a long period "so that we will capitulate."

The chief of staff said that IDF operations are centering on south Lebanon. Among other things, the army is trying to cleanse the border zone of Hezbollah outposts and attack the villages from which Hezbollah is firing. When the IDF discovers that Hezbollah is firing rockets at Israel from a particular village, Halutz said, the army warns the residents to leave the village and then bombs it in an effort to damage Hezbollah's tactical operational capability.

The IDF has succeeded in damaging Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets on Israel, Halutz said.

"We damage, diminish, weaken and erode," he told the ministers. "Hezbollah's consciousness has already been seared, and they understood completely that Israel is reacting in a way that they never thought we would react."

Halutz said that plans have already been laid for a ground incursion, but that the army is not implementing them at the moment.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the IDF has "as much time as you want to complete the mission."



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