Israel Sees Hizballah Provocations As 'Act of War'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hizballah militants in southern Lebanon was not a terrorist attack but an act of war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday.

The Israeli army attacked Hizballah targets in southern Lebanon by air, land and sea on Wednesday after Hizballah captured the two soldiers and wounded 11 others in a cross-border attack earlier in the day.

The attack on northern Israel effectively opened up a two-front war for Israel, which also expanded its two-week old military operation in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning. Israel went into Gaza, hoping to force the release of another captured soldier and to stop the continual firing of Kassam rockets into Israel.

Iranian-backed Hizballah, which controls the southern Lebanese border, fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities along the border during an attack on two armored Israeli vehicles patrolling the area.

Israel responded with heavy artillery fire and aerial attacks on at least two bridges to prevent Hizballah from escaping with the soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that Israel had launched a ground offensive into southern Lebanon and said he was holding Lebanon responsible for the attack.

"The murderous attack this morning was not a terror attack but an act of war," Olmert said. Lebanon, which has Hizballah members in its parliament, "must bear full responsibility," he said.

"Israel's response will be restrained but very, very, very painful," Olmert said. "The cabinet will convene this evening to approve additional activity by the military in Lebanon."

Reports said Israel was also preparing to call Israeli reserves into action, if it becomes necessary.

Olmert said that Israel would not surrender to "arrogance" nor would it negotiate with terrorists.

Hizballah's Al-Manar television station aired clips demanding that Israel release Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, including Samir Kuntar. Kuntar headed a terrorist cell that infiltrated the northern Israeli town of Nahariya and was responsible for the murder of three members of one family and a policeman.

Al-Manar said that the Islamic Resistance (Hizballah) had captured the two Israeli soldiers to fulfill its pledge to "liberate the [Arab] prisoners and detainees."

The last time Hizballah succeeded in capturing Israeli soldiers was in October 2000, when it abducted three Israelis in a cross-border attack. For years Israel did not know if they were dead or alive.

Their bodies were returned in January 2004, in exchange for 435 "security prisoners," most of them Palestinians; and the bodies of 59 Lebanese fighters.

Just last November, a similar abduction attempt by Hizballah was thwarted by Israeli army troops.

The Lebanese government reportedly was meeting Wednesday to discuss the escalation in the situation.

It appears that Wednesday's attack may have been coordinated between Hizballah and Hamas. Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, said on Al-Jazeera television that the Hizballah capture of Israeli soldiers represented an opportunity to free Palestinian prisoners, Israel Radio reported.


Further south, in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Air Force bombed a building where it believed a most-wanted Hamas terrorist, Mohammed Deif, was meeting with other top Hamas leaders.

At least six Palestinians were killed, including two children, Palestinian sources said. Israel said that Deif was wounded but got away.

Two Kassam rockets were launched overnight from the Gaza Strip with one landing in Israel.

A large Israeli armored column filed into central Gaza near the former Kissufim crossing, formerly used by Israelis settlers to get to their communities.

"Our main target is the terrorist infrastructure -- the rocket crews, the gunmen, the armed caches," a brigade commander told troops ahead of the operation.

Some 70 terrorists have been killed so far, he said, but the troops "must abide by our moral code [and] everything possible not to harm innocents."

Israeli troops were warned to beware of suicide bombings, combined attacks, truckloads of explosives and kidnappings.

The army also air-dropped leaflets warning the Palestinian people to stay clear of areas where the army is operating.

The leaflets said the army operations would last as long as necessary to determine the whereabouts of Corporal Gilad Shalit, abducted two weeks ago.

"People who try to disrupt the [Israeli army's] activities, which are meant to ensure the safe return of our soldier, are doing so at their own risk," the leaflet said.

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