Hezbollah attack Israel; Israeli forces cross over into southern Lebanon

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Israel has launched an incursion into southern Lebanon in what they claim is a search for two Israeli soldiers. The soldiers were taken Wednesday following an attack by Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia, that had made an incursion into Israel.

Three Israeli soldiers died and eleven were wounded when army transports patrolling at the Israeli-Lebanese border were attacked on Wednesday morning, near the Israeli village of Zar'it. Hezbollah also fired mortars and long-range rockets at the Israeli town of Shlomi and nearby communities. Six Israeli civilians were injured by the artillery fire.

After the attack two soldiers were found to be missing. Israeli troops and tanks then entered southern Lebanon, having claimed the soldiers were kidnapped[1]. Following the incursion, five more soldiers were killed, four of them when an Israeli tank hit a mine. Hezbollah said one of its members died.

The Israeli air-force targeted several roads, bridges and Hezbollah outposts in an attempt to stop militants from moving the soldiers, Israel said. Two civilians were killed in an air raid on one of the bridges, while 23 others have been injured. Israeli artillery and gunboats also attacked other targets on Lebanese soil.

Later, Hezbollah said they had destroyed an Israeli tank which had crossed the border into Lebanon.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's Prime Minister, blamed the attack on the Lebanese government calling it "an act of war" and vowed to deliver a "very painful and far-reaching" response. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told Israel's Channel 10 that if the soldiers are not returned "we will turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years".

Hezbollah Secretary-General, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, hailed what he called the capture of the two soldiers calling them "our natural, only and logical right". He also said that the soldiers were taken to "a far away place" and that the only way to get them back was through an exchange with Lebanese and other Arab prisoners in Israeli jails.

The Israeli cabinet is in an emergency meeting and has yet to make an official statement about the situation. PM Ehud Olmert said previously that swapping of prisoners is not an option.

Hezbollah's announcement of their captures led to celebration scenes in a Hezbollah-strong suburb in Beirut with firing of guns in the air and handing out candy to children.

The Lebanese government issued a statement after an emergency meeting of the cabinet saying that it was not informed of the intentions of Hezbollah and that it does not endorse the group's actions. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was quoted as saying that "the government was not aware of and does not take responsibility for, nor endorses what happened on the international border".

Hezbollah currently has two sitting members on the Lebanese government's ruling coalition.

The view recognized by the United States is one that condemned the attacks, but acknowledged that Lebanon had little say over Hezbollah in the south. The White House said the militant group's violent actions were supported by Iran and Syria.

Israel has filed a complaint with the United Nations which called for the Security Council to enforce resolutions urging Lebanon to extend its authority throughout its territory and to disarm its militias.

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Sources

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