VIDEO - Four Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed Thursday evening in exchanges of fire in the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, near Avivim. The soldiers' families have been notified.
The IDF was investigating the circumstances of the incident to try to understand how the soldiers were killed.
The names of three of the casualties were cleared for publication Friday morning:
- Major Benji Hillman, 27, of Raanana. His funeral will be held at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Raanan cemetery.
- Staff Sergeant Rafanel Muskal, 21, of Mazkeret Batya. His funeral will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Mazkerey Batya cemetery.
- Staff Sergeant Nadav Balua, 21, of Carmiel. His funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Carmiel cemetery.
Six soldiers were wounded in the incident, apparently after being hit by a mortar shell fired at the forces.
Evacuating the wounded (Photo: Reuters)
Attempts to rescue some of the injured were carried out under relentless fire. Meanwhile it has been reported that the IDF forces operating in the area struck at least six terror cells, containing dozens of terrorists. It is believed a number of additional terror cells took part in the fire exchange.
|IDF forces near Avivim (Video: Danny Dagan)|
Exchanges of fire took place for a long time and the terrorists also tried to rescue some of their own injured.
The area is difficult to navigate with many structures and Hizbullah is taking advantage of this for the element of surprise.
The IDF believes that Hizbullah is operating in large forces within the villages and is holding arms in the area which it does not want to lose.
IDF sources said activities in recent days are focusing on a number of small villages in southern Lebanon. According to intelligence held by the IDF, Hizbullah infrastructures including weapons caches and various arms are located in the area.
Hizbullah bunker in Avivim area (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Office)
An initial IDF investigation found that the a number of terrorists spent a long planning the attack. "There were a number of sniper positions," the officer explained.
At a certain stage the force reached a relatively open position, with few buildings. A mortar shell was fired and struck the force, and most of the soldiers were hit by shock and shrapnel. Heavy exchanges of fire ensued.
'Population turned into a bulletproof vest'
Before the battle, IDF forces hit a number of terrorists. "There was very heavy fire there. Missiles, mortars, something of everything," the officer said.
The entire village, it turned out, had become a Hizbullah stronghold. Bunkers were built, as well as positions.
"They turned the population there into a bulletproof vest," the officer said.
"Unfortunately, in this war, we will have more injuries and people killed. We can't promise otherwise. We'll be sorry for whoever get hit, but there will be more. We already expect it. We have a strong army that must fight this terror organization, which threatens the security of Israel," he said.
At this stage the IDF prefers not to give details over the Hizbullah casualties. "We hit a few dozen terrorists, a large part of them today," the officer said. "Beyond that we also struck bunkers in homes and arms caches," he added.
The senior officer rejected the claim that the fighters do not know the nature of fighting in Lebanon accounting for the large number of casualties. "The units trained for this kind of conflict, it must be remembered that they came to fight," he said.