An Israel Defense Forces officer and a soldier were killed and 14 soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, in a battle yesterday with Hezbollah in the town of Bint Jbail, in the central sector in South Lebanon.
The IDF estimates that Hezbollah lost at least 10 of its men. Hezbollah does not publish its casualty list.
Before dawn yesterday, two reinforced brigade teams, from Golani and the Paratroops, began a joint operation to encircle the town. The paratroops moved from the village of Maroun Ras, which they conquered over the weekend, and outflanked Bint Jbail from southwest. Golani moved from southeast, from the direction of the village Itaroun. Another team from Brigade 7 of the Armored Corps, remained a slight distance behind, in Maroun Ras. The troops encountered fierce resistance from an estimated 50-100 Hezbollah militants. Golani troops advanced more rapidly than the paratroops and reached the eastern outskirts of the town, where they came under the heaviest fire in the battle.
In the first incident, a soldier from the Egoz unit was lightly wounded. A short while later, troops from the Golani anti-tank company that had take over a house in the town, spotted a Hezbollah cell nearby. In the ensuing exchange of fire, Hezbollah men were apparently hit. However, when air support was called in, an Israel Air Force aircraft mistakenly opened fire on IDF troops and lightly wounded five soldiers from the anti-tank company.
At this point, two advanced Merkava-4 tanks were brought in to evacuate the casualties, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Guy of Battalion 52. The evacuation went smoothly, but on the way back, the troops were ambushed by Hezbollah. Two large explosive devices were detonated close to each other and anti-tank rockets were fired. The battalion commander's tank was hit by a rocket, moderately wounding him and killing the gunner. Two other soldiers were lightly wounded.
The second tank hit a large explosive device. The tank commander, an officer serving as platoon commander, was killed and three of his crew members were wounded. The tank may have veered from the planned course of travel, in open territory, and got onto the main route along the road leading from Bint Jbail to Maroun Ras, in order to complete the casualty evacuation quickly. Golani officers praised the conduct of the deputy armored battalion commander, who assumed command of the troops and remained calm under fire.
Throughout yesterday, soldiers from Egoz, the Golani reconnaissance battalion and Battalion 51 fought with Hezbollah at close range. The soldiers reported seeing five Hezbollah corpses in the field, but the IDF believes the real death toll to be much higher.
A senior officer from the IDF's Northern Command told Haaretz last night that the operation in Bint would continue over the next few days. Despite the casualties the IDF sustained, he said, the imbalance of power between the sides was clear. "There's an old soldiers' saying that when it rains, the enemy also gets wet. Today [yesterday] they got wetter," he added.