Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Patrick Rahir, "Hezbollah supporters tell of bold Israeli raid gone wrong," AFP/Yahoo!, Aug 19, 2006.

BUDAY, Lebanon (AFP) - In the eastern Lebanese mountain village of Buday, residents say Hezbollah's strength combined with Israeli soldiers' unconvincing Arabic accents proved fatal for a daring commando raid.

And they have little doubt that the raid, which saw one soldier killed in clashes with Hezbollah fighters, targeted an Iranian-linked senior official from the Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist movement, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek.

Israel said its raid, which drew harsh criticism from Lebanon's premier and threatened to throw off course a six-day-old truce, was aimed at preventing weapons shipments to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran.

But villagers in Buday, nearly all of them self-described supporters of Hezbollah which in recent days has doled out thousands of dollars in cash to those whose homes have been destroyed in southern Beirut, see a different motive.

"They came to capture Sheikh Yazbek," says one man who refuses to give his name but describes himself an an interior ministry employee in a town where Hezbollah's yellow and green flags fly proudly from every corner.

As soon as he divulges his opinion, others rush to join in.

Some say Yazbek, who is a senior member of Hezbollah's Shura consultative council and representative in Lebanon of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in charge of financial grants from Khamenei's office, was seen in the area as recently as Friday.

Yazbek, who is originally from Buday but does not reside in the village, was glimpsed attending the funerals of Hezbollah fighters who were killed during Israel's month long offensive in Lebanon, they say.

Yazbek's influence on the impoverished Bekaa Valley village is clear to see -- an imposing complex whose construction Yazbek sponsored, including a school, mosque and meeting rooms, stands in stark contrast to a dim conglomeration of cement apartment blocks.

The dawn battle between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas took place just a few hundred meters (yards) away.

Late Friday, under cover of darkness and shielded by warplanes launching mock air raids, Israeli helicopters landed two Humvees near the eastern town of Baalbek some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Buday.

The vehicles were painted in Lebanese army colors and the Israeli soldiers were wearing Lebanese army uniforms, so the Israeli soldiers were able to move freely for several hours, residents say.

But on the outskirts of Buday, Hezbollah guerrillas were maintaining a strict patrol, and they stopped the Israeli vehicles.

After brief questioning, the Israeli soldiers responded in Arabic that they were on the same side.

Their unusual accents gave them away. The Hezbollah watchman sounded the alarm and the clash erupted.

Hezbollah fighters then rushed in from throughout the surrounding areas, says Suheil Qana, 37, who says he slept with his Kalashnikov in his hand to be ready to defend his family.

Qana awoke in the night to the sound of explosions caused when Apache helicopters fired missiles and machine gun rounds as F-16 fighters and Israeli drones overflew the area to provide cover for the commando launch.

By 6 am on Saturday, it was all over, the hen farmer says.

Residents point out bloodstains in the fields. Civil servant Hajj Mashuri Msheikh says the spots of blood are in the area where helicopters took off with the disguised vehicles and soldiers after the fighting ended.

Enormous craters are visible in the roads nearby, artillery shells are strewn across the fields and trails, and an irrigation canal is riddled with holes bored by bullets and explosions.

Eventually, two beefy men carrying pistols and walkie-talkies approach to check the identities of correspondents on the scene. Asked what happened here, one of them, a bearded man, responds.

"There were fewer than 30 Israelis. They fell during a clash," he says.

They take out a few items from a bag, war trophies. A bloodied bandage, a shell cartridge, a page written in Hebrew.

Asked for his name, the bearded man says only: "That's impossible," before climbing into a car and driving off.
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