Bloodiest Day of Fighting Results in Deaths of 30 Terrorists

The bloodiest fighting in the Re-Engagement War resulted in the death of 30-40 Hizbullah terrorists, and four Israeli soldiers Thursday, the IDF said.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 08:13

Six soldiers were wounded in the fighting and most are reported to be in moderate or good condition. Rescue efforts took several hours because Hizbullah terrorists attacked medical teams with mortar shells.

Three of the IDF soldiers have been identified. They are Major Benji Hillman, 27, of Ra'anana and Staff Sergeants Rafael Muskal, 21, of Mazkeret Batya and Nadav Balua, 21, of Carmiel.

The battles took place along the northern border, opposite Kibbutz Avivim, the same place where two other soldiers were killed Wednesday. The area is covered with heavy brush, and the IDF began clearing the area more than half a mile into Lebanon following Wednesday's battle.

Thousands of ground troops, backed by helicopters and tanks, discovered underground bunkers, which Hizbullah terrorists have built the past few years as hiding places for surprise attacks, escape routes and weapons store rooms. One tunnel contained a cannon.

Major General Benny Gantz, head of IDF ground forces, pointed out that Hizbullah terrorists often dig the tunnels under civilian homes, similar to Hamas tactics in the Gaza area. "The operation is challenging, difficult and complex. Unfortunately, there is the price of casualties, but the other side, unlike us, doesn't report their casualties," he added. Hizbullah reported only two casualties on its side.

Israel has suffered 34 civilian and military casualties, since the fighting began last week when Hizbullah terrorists tried to infiltrate into Israel. They attacked IDF units and kidnapped two soldiers, whose whereabouts still are not known, and followed with unprecedented rocket attacks on northern Israel, from the Mediterranean Coast to the Hermon Mountains.

The Air Force Thursday night continued sorties deep into Lebanon and attacked 40 targets, including rocket launchers, five buildings and bridges.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah denounced as "nonsense" IDF accounts that it has knocked out up to half of the terrorist organization's rocket launching capacity. He reiterated his stand that he will not release the abducted soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, unless Israel agrees to free thousands of jailed Arab terrorists.

Hizbullah attacked Israel Thursday with 32 Katyusha rockets, one of the lowest amounts since it opened up its war on the north. Most of the rockets landed in open areas and caused several fires but little damage and no injuries.

Nasrallah also scoffed that a large IDF land invasion would "be a disaster for the Israeli army."

"The fighting in the north was added to the fighting in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and may continue for an extended period of time," said IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. "The fighting...could last a long time."

Major General Udi Adam, head of the Northern Command, said that the IDF "needs several more weeks" to satisfactorily destroy most of the Hizbullah terrorist infrastructure.

Israel is racing against time as Arab and European countries pressure the United States to soften its stand against a cease fire. American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting Friday with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who harshly denounced Israel Thursday for taking out "collective punishment" on Lebanon.

Rice may visit the Middle East as early as next week, but American President George W. Bush wants to be sure she will not return empty handed.