JERUSALEM — Three Israeli soldiers were killed and four others were wounded in a clash with guerrillas north of the Israeli border in southern Lebanon, the army command announced Wednesday.
A military spokesman said one of the guerrillas was killed and another, who was wounded in the firefight, was captured by Israeli soldiers.
The encounter, which took place Tuesday night on the western slopes of Mt. Hermon near the Syrian border, resulted in the greatest Israeli casualty toll in a single incident in southern Lebanon since June, 1985, according to the command.
The dead were a captain, a lieutenant and a private, a military spokesman said. The four injured soldiers were not seriously hurt.
After the clash, hundreds of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships crossed the border into southern Lebanon and mounted a search operation in the area as warplanes dropped flares to guide them. They withdrew into Israel late Wednesday.
The Israeli spokesman said a search of the area produced propaganda pamphlets, arms and explosives. The pamphlets indicated that the guerrillas were from a group called the Lebanese Liberation Front, he said, and had planned to attack what they called the "Zionist entity," which is guerrilla parlance for Israel.
Reports from Lebanon said the 15-man guerrilla team involved in Tuesday's incident was drawn from the Lebanese Communist Party and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Israel's official radio said the gunmen had hoped to take hostages in Israel to exchange for prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The clash took place in a so-called security zone established by Israel along its northern border. The zone is between one and six miles deep and is patrolled by Israeli soldiers and their allies in the South Lebanon Army, a Christian Lebanese militia group that is funded and outfitted by Israel.
The security zone was established by Israel in June, 1985, to protect the country's northern border after the withdrawal of Israeli regular forces from southern Lebanon three years after launching an invasion aimed at driving the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon.