Israeli soldier killed in Lebanon

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Hezbollah guerrillas clashed today with Israeli special forces operating deep in Lebanon, killing one military officer and wounding two soldiers, Israel's first casualties since a UN-brokered cease-fire took effect five days ago.

The army said its commandos entered Lebanon "to prevent and interfere with terror activity against Israel, especially the smuggling of arms from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah."

The army said the force completed its mission successfully, and that such operations would be carried out until an "effective" monitoring force is in place to prevent Hezbollah's rearmament. The operation was Israel's broadest since the cease-fire.

One of the wounded soldiers was in serious condition and the other had light injuries, the army said. It refused to give the rank of the officer killed.

The cease-fire put an end to 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah that erupted on 12 July after the guerrilla group captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the UN-brokered truce bans providing Hezbollah with arms and Israel is "entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo."

"Once the Lebanese army and the international forces are active on the international frontiers to enforce the resolution then such Israeli activity will become superfluous," Regev said.

Hezbollah said its guerrillas foiled the commando raid, west of their stronghold of Baalbek deep inside Lebanon, sparking a gunbattle that left Israeli casualties. The army refused to confirm any casualties.

Lebanese security officials confirmed the Hezbollah TV report of a drop of Israeli commandos by helicopter on a hill outside the village of Boudai west of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon. Witnesses said Israeli missiles destroyed a bridge during the fighting.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to release information to the media, said the Israelis apparently were seeking a guerrilla target in a nearby school but had no other details. The officials also reported heavy Israeli overflights.