Israeli commandos have stormed an apartment complex in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, trying to capture or kill leaders of a local Hezbollah unit they believe had been firing long-range rockets into Israel. At least five people have been killed, including a Lebanese soldier, and the Israeli military says eight of its troops are wounded. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough is in Tyre, and has this report.
The Israeli commandos landed at around four in the morning, supported by Apache helicopters and low-flying fighter jets.
Heavy machine-gun fire from the helicopters indicated that this was not just another bombing raid. Israeli commandos stormed an apartment building in the northern outskirts of Tyre.
Aircraft bombed the roads leading to the site, sealing the area off.
Nearby resident Nada Al-Hariri said, "It was like an earthquake. The ground was shaking. We thought we were going to die."
At the scene of the raid, there are signs of a violent struggle, and residents of nearby apartments describe a fierce gunbattle between Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops. Hours after the attack, a second-story apartment was still smoldering. All the windows have been blasted out, and the walls are charred. Blood is dripping from the back window.
About 50 meters away, in a parking space, a large pool of blood is congealing on the ground. The walls are pockmarked with bullet holes. A trail of blood droplets leads away toward the street.
Hezbollah claims it is the blood of an Israeli soldier who was killed. Israel acknowledges that eight of its troops were wounded in the assault, two seriously.
Hezbollah claims to have repelled the attack. Israeli military officials said the raid successfully targeted Hezbollah long-range rocket launchers, as well as leaders of the unit that launched a rocket attack Friday on the Israeli city of Hadera, some 80 kilometers south of the border and the deepest rocket attack into Israel since the conflict began. It is not clear how many Hezbollah militants were killed or wounded. The group does not disclose its casualty figures.
Among the dead was at least one Lebanese Army soldier. The raid took place near the army barracks, and one of their armored personnel carriers was obliterated.
Hours later, Lebanese soldiers warned a reporter not to touch the charred, smoldering vehicle. It was still burning hot.
A few blocks away, standing next to a massive crater, a teenage bystander said he saw flashes of fire from a helicopter's heavy machine gun before a massive explosion tore apart the road near his house.
"They first came over our heads with a big heavy machine gun, and then they started dropping this stuff [the bombs]," he said. "This was terrifying. And they had troops on the ground, they had soldiers on the ground."
In the middle of a residential neighborhood chunks of debris flew into the air and landed on the tin-roofed homes just meters away.
A woman named Fatmeh points out the damage to her home. The dishes in the kitchen have been shattered, and there are holes in the roof. She and her family had been sleeping on the floor in the next room.
"When this explosion happened, we panicked," she said. "We didn't know where to go. One minute we'd run out on the street, we'd see what was happening, it would freak us out. We'd run out to the beach, and finally we thought maybe if we just sit on the beach with our back to the sea, in the soft sand, maybe we'll be safe there. We have no bunker here. We've got nothing to hide under."
She says she thinks the house is no longer sturdy enough to live in, but she and her three daughters have nowhere else to go.
"We don't have any armed youth who come here," she said. "We don't have rockets. We don't have guns. We just go to work, we come back. So yeah, I thought I would be safe."
This is the first time since the conflict began that Israeli commandos are known to have been on the ground in Tyre. The attack follows a similar airborne raid in the city of Baalbek on Tuesday, when Israeli commandos stormed a disused hospital and took several Hezbollah captives.
It is clear that the military activity around Tyre is far from over. A few hours after the raid here, another two rockets struck near the city center, killing two men on a moped. Heavy shelling around town has continued.
One of the bombs dropped during the raid destroyed the main road leading out of Tyre toward the north. That will seriously complicate efforts to bring aid shipments into the city by road.