A day of fighting in the north Monday claimed the lives of the Apache pilots, following a combat helicopter crash near Safed. The pilots were identified as Colonel Tzvi Luft, 42, of Kibbutz Hogla and First Lieutenant Tom Farkash, 23, of Caesarea.
An officer and a soldier were killed and 18 Israel Defense Forces soldiers were injured in exchanges of fire between ground forces and Hizbullah members in the area between Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil.
Among the injured were four fighters of the Golani's Orev company, who were lightly to moderately wounded by a combat helicopter that accidentally fired at them.
The helicopter pilots were hurt after the aircraft began taking to the ground for an unknown reason, hit a power line, crashed and caught fire within seconds.
Magen David Adom crews and security forces were dispatched to the area, while more than eight firefighting crews worked to put out the fire that broke out in the area near the scene of the crash.
Light aircrafts were also dispatched to the area to assist in the operation. IDF officials estimated that the accident occurred as a result of human error or a technical malfunction.
Yohanan Locker, Commander of the IAF's Air Division, said the cause of Monday morning’s helicopter crash near Safed was unclear.
“It simply disappeared from radio contact. Unfortunately, the two pilots were killed” he said.
Locker was asked in a press conference how the helicopter crashed, and answered: "It's a mystery. No fire was seen directed at us from Lebanon. The chance that helicopter that was brought down was hit by enemy fire is very low. Also in terms of geometry and the helicopter's location, and also because there was another helicopter in front of it aimed at thwarting such a possibility."
Earlier, two soldiers were killed and 18 were wounded near the Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil, which is also called "the Hizbullah capital." Two Golani infantry divisions and paratroopers took part in the fighting around the village and besieged it. Tanks of the armor's Division 7 also operated in the area.
Halutz: Bint Jbeil is a symbol for Hizbullah
IDF Operations Branch Head Major General Gadi Eisenkot said during a press briefing Monday: “The operation we saw in Bint Jbeil will be seen in other places as well. In the operations, we take control of an area for a limited amount of time, then leave it.”
According to Eisenkot, “the Navy is continuing its activities in Lebanon – imposing the sea closure and destroying of sea-front targets.”
IDF sources said that "the fighting is taking place in a number of spots. The Air Force is covering the forces and firing at gunmen. We are working according to the plan with the objective of entering the village and cleansing it of terrorists."
On Monday morning, IDF Chief of General Staff Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz estimated that there are hundreds of terrorists in Bint Jbeil, where terrorists from surrounding villages congregated. He said Bint Jbeil is a symbol for Hizbullah.
A number of soldiers injured in fighting were airlifted to the Ziv Hospital in Safed and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Four soldiers injured when Hizbullah fired an anti-tank missile at their armored vehicle were treated in Haifa. The Ziv Hospital received 13 injured soldiers.
A military helicopter transported three soldiers from Ziv to the Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv where they received special treatment for back injuries.
A Tel Hashomer doctor said the soldiers sustained shrapnel wounds and bone fractures.
Hizbullah boasts: We hit tanks
Hizbullah has been boasting its military achievements against Israel through its mouthpiece al-Manar TV.
The group said it hit a number of Israeli tanks and killed a dozen soldiers.
A Hizbullah member of parliament, Houssein Haj Hassan, said the group is firing anti-tank missiles to hit Israeli armored vehicles.
Estimates are that Syria and Iran supplied Hizbullah with sophisticated anti-tank missiles.
"We have less destructive arms than the enemy but it is more efficient. We promised surprises," he told al-Manar.
About the motivation of group members he said: "They are yearning to become Shahids."
Hizbullah also claimed downing an Israeli attack helicopter. Israel said the gunship went down for technical reasons.
Roee Nahmias and Ahiya Raved contributed to the report