Three Israeli soldiers die, four wounded in Lebanon

JERUSALEM — It was their first week in Lebanon.

They were on their way to a routine weapons-testing not far from their sand-bagged outpost. A tank had already gone before them down the road, which was supposedly cleared of bombs.

For the squad from the Golani Brigade's 51st battalion, it was one of their first encounters in the field.

For three of them, it was to be their last.

Watched from afar by Hezbollah guerrillas — who made sure to videotape and later broadcast the carnage — the Israeli squad made its way down the hill from the Tel Kaba outpost. The soldiers had gotten about 100 feet from their outpost gate. It was 11:20 a.m. Monday.

Suddenly, a mine containing dozens of pounds of explosives went off.

Sgt. Nahum Elah, 19, of Jerusalem was the first to die. With attack helicopters hovering overhead in search of the guerrillas, doctors tried in vain to save his life. But he was pronounced dead in the field.

The others were flown to hospitals in helicopters.

By the time Sgt. Yossi Ben-Muha, 19, of Haifa reached the hospital, it was too late. He was the second to die.

Sgt. Raz Promovitch, 19, of Gan Yavne, was the last casualty.

Dr. Zvi Ben-Ishai, deputy director of Haifa's Rambam Hospital, said Promovitch died on the operating table.

Their deaths brought to 18 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon this year.

Four others were wounded in the attack, two of them seriously.

In Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood, mourners gathered at the Elah family's house this week. They spoke of how proud Nahum was to serve in Lebanon.

They recalled how a close friend of his had been killed there six months ago, and the trauma he suffered. His big dream, they said, was to get his motorcycle license and travel the country.

In Kiryat Shmuel near Haifa, the Ben-Muha family was also in mourning.

The news of the death came just a day before his younger brother, Kfir Ben-Muha, was to be drafted. Kfir Ben-Muha said his brother had fought hard to get accepted into the Golani Brigade, despite a rocky beginning in the army.

"He always wanted to be a combat soldier. And he only wanted Golani," he said.

The three deaths came after a relative lull, in which Hezbollah had not succeeded in inflicting casualties on the Israel Defense Force in southern Lebanon. The previous deadly attack occurred on Oct. 5, when two soldiers were killed, also by a roadside bomb.

Hezbollah's weapon of choice remains the roadside bomb, which has been the primary cause of Israeli casualties in Lebanon this year. The IDF uses several methods to discover and neutralize such bombs, including trained dogs, but has not yet found a real solution to the threat.

Monday's bomb attack came six hours after Israeli air force jets struck twice at Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon. It was the eighth air strike in as many days.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who visited the wounded in hospitals this week, said the attack should not lead to hasty decisions.

"The situation in Lebanon is not good, but we have gone through much more difficult periods," Weizman said. "I can understand the nervous parents whose sons are serving in the north. But we have to protect ourselves from ourselves."

Several Knesset members, led by Yossi Beilin of the Labor Party, met to discuss ways to promote an IDF withdrawal from Lebanon.

Beilin called for reserve army generals "to come out of the closet" and publicly state their support for a withdrawal.