SIDON, Lebanon — Israeli troops, in their deepest ground penetration into Lebanon in two years, attacked a jeep and killed at least six Muslim leftist militiamen near the southern port of Sidon, police and Israeli officials said today.
Lebanese police said the raiding party landed on a beach south of Sidon shortly before midnight today and ambushed a jeep carrying a patrol of the Syrian-backed Popular Liberation Army. Six militiamen were killed and four were wounded, police said.
In Jerusalem, the army command and state-owned Israel radio said troops encountered a guerrilla vehicle near Sidon and opened fire, killing at least seven people and wounding others.
There were no Israeli casualties, a military spokesman said.
25 Miles From Border
The operation, the deepest penetration by land forces of Lebanon since Israel withdrew the bulk of its troops in June, 1985, occurred about 25 miles north of the Israeli border, according to an Israeli army official in Jerusalem who asked for anonymity.
He said, without elaboration, that the operation was part of a series of actions taken by the army to prevent terrorist attacks in south Lebanon.
The 30 to 40 Israeli commandos fired four rocket-propelled grenades and raked the patrol's two jeeps with machine-gun fire before boarding dinghies to return to waiting gunboats, Lebanese police said.
The boats shelled the coast as the soldiers made their escape under parachute flares dropped by Israeli helicopter gunships, the police said.
Israel radio reported that seven guerrillas were killed and several others wounded in the clash.
Independent sources in south Lebanon who asked for anonymity said the clash occurred at the southern outskirts of Sidon near an outpost manned by the Nasserite Popular Organization, a Sunni Muslim leftist militia headed by Mustafa Saad that has been supported by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The outpost is near the Ein Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, which is controlled by the PLO.
The Popular Liberation Army is the paramilitary arm of the Nasserite Popular Organization, which has ruled Sidon since the outbreak of the Muslim-Christian civil war in 1975.
Mustafa Saad's younger brother and top aide, Usama, claimed after the raid that the Israelis wanted to trick the Popular Liberation Army into thinking the raid was carried out by Palestinians, not Israelis.
"If the raiding Israeli aggressors had succeeded in withdrawing without being spotted by the PLA, there would have been a confrontation between Sidon and the (Palestinian) camps," Usama Saad said.