Hezbollah captured 2 Israeli soldiers, which Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called “an act of war.”
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – The Hezbollah militant group captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Lebanese border on Wednesday, triggering an Israeli assault with warplanes, tanks and gunboats as Israeli troops crossed the frontier to hunt for the captives.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the guerrilla attack “an act of war” and warned that Hezbollah would pay a “heavy price” for its actions.
Israeli warplanes struck two bridges over the Litani River deep in southern Lebanon, killing two civilians on the main north-south highway between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, Lebanese security officials said. The pan-Arab satellite TV al-Arabiya station said that at least seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, and that several more were wounded.
The Israeli army confirmed casualties among the soldiers, but did not comment on the reports of possible deaths.
Israeli troops crossed into a southwestern sector of Lebanon, near where the soldiers were seized, trying to keep their captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli security officials said. Hezbollah said it destroyed an Israeli tank as it tried to cross the frontier.
The clashes came after Israel sharply escalated its military campaign in Gaza in an effort to press Palestinian militants to release another Israeli soldier who was captured during a raid across the Israel-Gaza border last month. Israel dropped a quarter-ton bomb on a Gaza home Wednesday in a failed attempt to assassinate top Hamas fugitives, killing seven children and two adults.
“These are difficult days for the state of Israel and its citizens,” Olmert said. “There are people … who are trying to test our resolve. They will fail and they will pay a heavy price for their actions.”
Update: The Jerusalem Post reports that world leaders are demanding that Hezbollah release the soldiers:
The European Union called for the immediate release of the kidnapped soldiers, and urged all sides to respect the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon.
US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, on a visit to Cairo, said the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was “a very dangerous escalation” that “puts at risk all the effort that’s being put forth by many to find a solution to the current situation.”
Germany, too, condemned Hizbullah’s capture of the two Israeli soldiers, calling it an “irresponsible new escalation” that could set back hopes for peace in the Middle East.
Berlin urges the immediate and unconditional release of the two soldiers, whose capture triggered an Israeli assault on southern Lebanon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said.
“In view of this irresponsible escalation in an already tense situation in the region, the danger exists that any agreed solution in the Middle East could be submerged for a long time,” he said.
Update II: Also from the Jerusalem Post: Israel rejected Lebanon’s request for a cease-fire.
Update III: MK members are demanding a full out war on both Hamas and Hezbollah:
MK Effie Eitam (National Union) called on Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign his post, claiming that “everything we have warned against is materializing – from the escape from Lebanon to fleeing from Gush Katif. The entire State is being blackmailed by abductions and rockets from the north and south.”
“There’s no choice. The war has been forced upon us – we must go to war and break the terror siege. We need a response that will rattle the Lebanon government and the Hamas-led government,” he stated.
In the Likud, MKs were careful not to lash out at the government in the first hours after the abduction. However, MK Reuven Rivlin said in response to the strike in the north: “We are in a state of war and must not remain silent. Our deterrence capabilities have been seriously undermined. We need to pull ourselves together and realize that this is war, and act accordingly.”
“We must make clear to all the elements that encourage terror against Israel that this will not go unanswered,” he added.
Fox News reported that Kofi Annan called for the release of the Israel soldiers, but condemned Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Of course.
Update IV: Are Hezbollah and Hamas working together? From DEBKA:
There is a strong parallel between the Hizballah kidnap operation and the Hamas attack and abduction of Gilead Shalit on June 25. The result is that Israeli is now fighting on two fronts and forced to stage incursions into two territories evacuated by its troops and used as terrorist strongholds. The Lebanese front differs from the Hamas front in Gaza in that Hizballah has arrayed its 12,000 rockets and missiles on the ready. Within their range are Israel’s northern cities from Nahariya to Haifa and Hadera in central Israel. Should the war situation escalate, Syrian military and air intervention cannot be ruled out.
So Hezbollah had this planned and was ready for Israel’s response. This could get really ugly really quickly. If the terrorists see even more momentum swinging their way, we could see an attack on Israel from all fronts.
Update V: Israel is calling up the reservists.
Update VI: Syria is jumping into the fray by saying Israel is responsible for the attack it suffered today. Islamic terrorist thugs are so easy to predict.
Update VII: We have some confirmation that Hezbollah is working for the benefit of Hamas. Fox News announced that the Hezbollah leader said during his press conference that today’s attack and kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers will “boost the position of Palestinians in Gaza.”
Update VIII: Hugh Hewitt on Israel’s attack on Lebanon:
The Islamists to Israel’s south and now north “would make war” rather than let Israel survive.
Israel will accept war rather than let itself perish.
And so the war has come again. I suspect that it will get much, much worse before peace approaches the region again. And it is the obligation of Western media to again and again announce clearly that it was not Israel’s choice, but the Islamists.
Update IX: Airstrikes to start soon.