- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

JERUSALEM — A nighttime raid into the heart of Hezbollah-controlled territory, collecting several prisoners, has energized Israel’s war effort, which previously had been limited to areas along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The helicopter-borne assault by Israeli commandos Tuesday night and earlier yesterday morning targeted Baalbek, a major Hezbollah stronghold and logistics center in the Bekaa Valley, about 75 miles inside Lebanon.

Lebanese security officials say six men taken by the Israelis included one named Hussein Nasrallah. There was no indication as to whether he was related to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Unconfirmed accounts report that 10 Hezbollah terrorists were killed in the battle. Residents told the Associated Press that at least 15 civilians died.

Residents in and around Baalbek say the Dar Al-Hikma hospital was damaged in overnight fighting, but an Associated Press photographer says the building appears intact. Guards prevented journalists from entering, the AP reported. Israeli officials say the building is no longer used as a hospital, having been converted into a Hezbollah command center.

Israeli warplanes and helicopters attacked a target 15 miles west of Baalbek, setting a huge fire. This proved to be a diversion for the landing of a large commando force near the Hezbollah-run hospital outside the city.

Lebanese sources suggest that the Israelis are seeking a senior Hezbollah official, Mohammed Yazbek, who is no longer there. Israel has not released the identities of the captured Hezbollah guerrillas, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, asked by the AP whether any “big fish” were captured, replied: “They are tasty fishes.”

Hezbollah says five civilians were captured in the raid and that the neighborhood around the building had been destroyed, as reported by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the German press agency. Israeli officials say the operation involved 200 men from two commando units.

On breaking into the building, Israeli commandos searched room to room, seized prisoners and took documents and computers. After four hours on the ground, the Israeli force returned to their helicopters with their prisoners without having sustained casualties.

To penetrate a major Hezbollah stronghold, remain for four hours and return unharmed and with prisoners is regarded as a heavy blow to Hezbollah, which had mocked Israel as a “cobweb” that would be swept away by the first strong wind. The raid recalled the 1976 raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, in which commandos freed more than 100 Jewish hostages and contributed to the reputation of the Israeli army as invincible.

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