Hezbollah fighters fill raided town
Townspeople joined militia members to repel Israeli forces
August 20, 2006; 7:20 p.m.
BOUDAI, Lebanon (AP) -- Hezbollah fighters flooded Boudai on Sunday, brandishing Kalashnikovs and stopping, searching and questioning outsiders the day after the town fought off an Israeli commando raid with a 90-minute shootout.
Israeli forces tried to penetrate the Hezbollah town about 3 a.m. Saturday, swooping in on helicopters deep into the Bekaa Valley 60 miles from the Israeli border. The Israeli military later said the commandos were trying to interdict Iranian weapons being smuggled to guerrillas from Syria.
Residents who would speak to a reporter speculated that the Israelis were really trying to capture Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a member of Hezbollah's highest decision-making body, the Shura Council, who hails from Boudai.
"The came here for Yazbeck," said 41-year-old Mustafa Ayoub who lives in Saaydeh, the next town south. "He's from here, but he's not here now. It's possible Yazbeck was here. But I don't know. It's very difficult to know these things."
Boudai, which sits in the foothills of the Mount Lebanon range, has a spectacular view across the Bekaa Valley toward Baalbeck, the birthplace of Hezbollah, and the Anti-Lebanon range that divides Lebanon from Syria.
Wheat fields were partially harvested, sheep and goats grazed in the stubble. Fields of tobacco stretched into the distance, the big leaves waving in the breeze.
Every telephone pole in the town of 8,000 was flying a yellow Hezbollah flag, and windows were plastered with posters of the militant group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The main street was lined with alms boxes requesting donations for widows.
The Israelis landed their commandos, a jeep and a Humvee on a hill outside town, then drove toward the village center, witnesses said.
"I think that when Hezbollah confronted them, they changed their route. They were trying to go to a school -- a government school -- but they couldn't make it, so they drove through here," said Arabic teacher Fawzi Chamas, 50, pointing to wheat and tobacco fields.
The apparent target was a school rumored to be owned by Yazbeck. But the newly built facility -- with a locked gate and dirt still piled around it from construction -- bore a yellow sign outside and no Hezbollah flags: "Boudai School. Owner: The Republic of Lebanon."
About 10 Hezbollah fighters initially confronted the Israelis, but some 300 townspeople heard the roar of helicopters, grabbed their guns and joined the fight.
"All the sky seemed like a cloud of planes, and all -- not only Hezbollah -- fought. All the people in the village brought their guns to fight. Fifteen year-old boys brought guns," said Suzanne Mazloun, 22, wife of Boudai's mayor, Suleiman Chamas.
Realizing they were outgunned, the Israelis swerved into tobacco and wheat fields nearby and were picked up by helicopters.
Israel said one special forces officer was killed and two soldiers were injured, one seriously.
"They left lots of blood, bandages and syringes," said Mohammed Kanan, 36, pointing to a wheat field, where wads of tissues and white bandages were stained with what appeared to be blood.
In the town center, the Husseini Community Center lay in rubble, hit by an Israeli strike in the first week of the war. Dozens of Hezbollah sympathizers gathered Sunday nearby, on the third day of mourning for Hezbollah fighter Mohammed Ahmed Asef, who was buried here.
Speculation was that Yazbeck had been in Boudai for that funeral.
Hezbollah gunmen, skittish about a visiting reporter, stopped her car on three occasions, demanding identification and searching the vehicle.
At one point visitors were detained for 30 minutes during a flurry of phone calls among the gunmen. In the end, they were ordered to leave the area.