|Israel targets Lebanese infrastructure after Hizbullah captures 2 soldiers
|Resistance hopes for swap, but olmert rules out negotiations
Israel sent warplanes to destroy at least five bridges in Lebanon on Wednesday, hours after Hizbullah fighters took two of the Jewish state's soldiers prisoner in a cross-border operation condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as "an act of war."
Eight Israeli troops were killed during the heaviest fighting along the border since Israel ended its 22-year occupation of the South in 2000. Media reports indicated that two Lebanese civilians and a Hizbullah fighter were also killed. Fifteen civilians were wounded, including five journalists.
In a statement, the resistance movement said its forces attacked an Israeli patrol near the border and captured two soldiers at 9:05 a.m.
Israel responded with air and artillery strikes on a wide variety of targets, including Hizbullah positions, highway bridges, residential buildings, and an electrical sub-station. Thousands of extra troops beefed up the Israeli presence near the frontier with Lebanon, and a small number pushed into Lebanese territory in the Raheb area, near the town of Aita al-Shaab. In addition, about 6,000 Israeli reservists were called up for active duty.
Hizbullah said its forces engaged the Israelis as they entered Lebanon, scoring hits on three tanks, one of which was destroyed. The Israeli military confirmed the incident, acknowledging that the tank's four crew members were killed.
In a statement issued by the Israeli Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned that "Israel holds the Lebanese government fully responsible for this morning's attack."
As The Daily Star went to press, Israeli warplanes had just destroyed a major bridge over the Damour River, just south of Beirut, and were carrying out raids on a base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in nearby Naameh.
Lebanese security officials said the Lebanese Army was on alert, with soldiers deployed in Southern towns and anti-aircraft batteries in position.
Israeli shelling targeted a broad swath of territory on the Lebanese side of the border, with several forest fires reported as a result.
The most violent air raids targeted four bridges that link Bint-Jbeil, Tyre, and Marjayoun to Sidon and Nabatieh. The Israeli attacks also cut off roads linking Beirut to the South.
Equipment from local municipalities and Lebanese Army bulldozers began clearing the rubble and building a passage to allow citizens to cross from one area to another.
Echoing Peretz, Olmert said the Lebanese government bears full responsibility for the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers and said Israel would retaliate with a "painful blow."
"This morning's events are not a terror attack but the action of a sovereign state which attacked Israel without any reason ... The Lebanese government is responsible. Lebanon will pay the price," Olmert said.
The Israeli premier also ruled out any talks with Hizbullah over a possible prisoners swap.
"We will not hold negotiations or give in to terrorism. It was true yesterday, it is true today," Olmert told reporters.
Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations, calling on the international body to hold the Lebanese state responsible for Hizbullah's actions.
"The Israeli government has filed a complaint with the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan saying that taking the soldiers was an act of war against Israel by Lebanon," the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, told reporters.
He added that the complaint also urges the UN to enforce council resolutions calling on the Lebanese government to disarm all militias within its borders, namely Hizbullah.
As The Daily Star went to press, Olmert was chairing an emergency Cabinet meeting to decide on what course to take.
Initial reports said the session would give the military a free hand to react in what one minister described as "an appropriate fashion."
The Daily Star