A map of the Israel-Lebanon border area showing the area of Wednesday morning’s clashes. (Haaretz)
Last update – 13:42 12/07/2006
Hezbollah kidnapped two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on the northern border in the midst of massive shelling attacks on Israel’s north Wednesday morning. The IDF confirmed two of its soldiers were missing on the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah fighters attacked two IDF armored Hummer jeeps patrolling along the border with gunfire and explosives. The Hezbollah fighters nabbed two of the soldiers and wounded others in the Hummers.
Immediately following the Hezbollah attack, the organization’s Al-Manar television station began broadcasting clips calling on Israel to release Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. The Hezbollah demands emphasized the release of Lebanese militant Samir Al-Kuntar. Al-Manar also broadcast video clips of previous Palestinian and Lebanese attacks on IDF troops.
“Fulfilling its pledge to liberate the (Arab) prisoners and detainees, the Islamic Resistance… captured two Israeli soldiers at the border with occupied Palestine,” the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah said in a statement.
“The two captives were transferred to a safe place,” it said, without stating what condition the soldiers were in.
Immediately following the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz headed into the military’s war room at the Defense Ministry complex, Channel 10 TV reported. In consultations, senior IDF officers called for an end to the restraint against Hezbollah and said Lebanon should be made to pay a heavy price.
Halutz ordered the IDF to mobilize a reserve infantry division that was expected to be sent to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. General Staff exercises held over the past several years tested a number of possible responses to kidnapping scenarios. One of these responses involves the massive incursion of IDF ground forces into Lebanese territory. Military sources told Haaretz that Israel is liable to act with the aim of “altering the rules of the game on the northern front.”
The IDF also ordered troops deployed on the Lebanon and Gaza borders on high alert in the event that armed groups may attempt to fire Katyusha and Qassam rockets into Israel.
Two other Israelis were wounded when gunmen in Lebanon began pounding the IDF’s Zarit position and other posts along the border before 9 A.M. According to Al-Manar, Hezbollah kidnapped the two IDF soldiers at 9:05 A.M. and transferred them to a safe location.
The two Israelis were wounded either by mortar shells or rockets that slammed into Moshav Zarit. One was lightly to moderately wounded and the second was lightly wounded. Two other people suffered from shock. The wounded were evacuated to a hospital in Nahariya.
IDF ground forces crossed into Lebanon in the early afternoon to search for the two kidnapped soldiers, Army Radio reported.
The radio said large numbers of troops, as well as aircraft, were taking part in searches on the Lebanese side of the border.
Hezbollah said its guerrillas destroyed an IDF tank attempting to cross the border into Lebanon.
IDF responded to the attacks from Lebanon with heavy artillery and tank fire. Al-Manar television reported that IDF artillery was pounding the fringes of the villages of Aita el-Shaab, Ramieh and Yaroun in the hills east of the coastal border port of Naqoura. Israel Air Force struck roads, bridges and Hezbollah guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon, Lebanese security officials said. The air raids were apparently intended to block any escape route for the guerrillas who may be taking the captured IDF soldiers to areas further removed from the border in order to prevent an Israeli rescue mission.
Lebanese security sources said two Lebanese civilians were killed and a Lebanese soldier was wounded in an IAF air raid on a bridge in south Lebanon on Wednesday. The Lebanese casualties occurred in the raid on the coastal Qasmiyeh bridge.
The fighting apparently began when at least two rockets fired from south Lebanon exploded near Shlomi, located about 15 kilometers east of the Mediterranean coast, Reuters reported. Hezbollah guerrillas also attacked IDF positions in the Shaba Farms area to the east, Lebanese security sources said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in response to the violence in the north that enemies are putting Israel to a test. He said they would fail in their efforts and would pay a “heavy price” for their actions.
Olmert called a special cabinet session on Wednesday in the wake of the incident. Olmert’s office said the cabinet would convene at 7 P.M. An official said the ministers would discuss “today’s events”.
“These are difficult days for Israel and its citizens,” Olmert told reporters. “There are elements, to the north and the south, that are threatening our stability and trying to test our determination,” he said. “They will fail and pay a heavy price for their actions.”
Media reports said that before the cabinet meeting, Olmert would consult with IDF and security officials on a military response to the events on the border with Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government-affiliated said Israel Navy warships had entered Lebanese territorial waters and IDF forces were massing in the border area.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz demanded the Lebanese government act immediately to solve the crisis.
The Defense Ministry said it held the Lebanese government “directly responsible” for their fate and safe return.
“The Lebanese government is responsible for the fate of the Israeli soldiers, and must take immediate action to locate them without harming them and return them to Israel,” the ministry said in a statement.
The possibility of border clashes in the north was raised during security situation meetings over the past two weeks since the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit next to the Gaza Strip.
Emergency hotline for Nahariya’s Western Galilee Hospital – 1255141
Hizbullah Kidnaps 2 IDF Soldiers During Clashes on Israel-Lebanon Boarder- Israel Responding