Israel escalates aggression into Lebanon


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

July 13, 2006
Israelis Enter Lebanon After Attacks

JERUSALEM, Thursday, July 13 ‹ The Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah surprised 
Israel with a bold daylight assault across the border on Wednesday, leading to 
fighting in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and at least eight killed, 
and elevating recent tensions into a serious two-front battle.

Israel, already waging a military operation in the Gaza Strip to free a soldier 
captured by Palestinian militants on June 25, immediately responded by sending 
armored forces into southern Lebanon for the first time in six years.

Early on Thursday morning, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at the runways at 
Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, shutting the airport and 
potentially stranding thousands of visitors at the peak of tourist season. 
Israeli warplanes also hit numerous locations in southern Lebanon, adding to the
civilian death toll. The Israeli military confirmed the strike, saying that the 
airport was a target because Hezbollah receives weapons shipments there.

The Israeli government also confirmed that Hezbollah fired several Katyusha 
rockets into northern Israel, injuring three people.

The toll was the highest one for the Israeli soldiers in several years, and 
combined with the deaths on Wednesday of at least 22 Palestinians, including 
many civilians, in fighting in Gaza, it was the deadliest day in the 
Arab-Israeli conflict since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last year. And 
the violence continued into the early morning hours, when an Israeli airstrike 
heavily damaged the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza.

Even though Israel has overwhelming military superiority in both southern 
Lebanon and Gaza, the new fighting signaled the emergence of a conflict that has
blown past the limits of local confrontation into a regional crisis. Some 
analysts suggested that the similarity between the Hezbollah raid and the one in
Gaza by fighters with the Islamic faction Hamas and its allies, both intended to
gain leverage through captured Israeli soldiers, pointed to increasingly closer 
relations between the groups. [News analysis, Page A14.]

As with the Gaza conflict, Israel ruled out negotiations with the Lebanese 
captors of the Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he held the 
Lebanese government responsible for the assault by Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim 
group that participates in Lebanese politics but also continues to battle 

³I want to make clear that the event this morning is not a terror act, but an 
act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel without reason,² Mr. Olmert said. 
³The government of Lebanon, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to shake the
stability of the region.² Israel is demanding that all three soldiers be 
returned and that militants stop firing rockets at Israelis from Gaza in the 
south and Lebanon in the north. But both Hamas and Hezbollah are holding out for
an exchange for a large number of Palestinian and other Arab prisoners held by 

³The prisoners will not be returned except through one way ‹ indirect 
negotiations and a trade,² said the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah,
speaking to reporters in Beirut on Wednesday. He suggested the possibility of a 
deal. ³The capture of the two soldiers could provide a solution to the Gaza 
crisis,² he said. The operation had been planned for months, he said, though he 
added, ³The timing, no doubt, provides support for our brothers in Palestine.²

Hezbollah released a statement saying that the two soldiers had been transferred
to ³a safe place,² but did not give any other details.

Two years ago, Hezbollah managed to push Israel to free more than 400 
Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for an Israeli businessman held 
in Lebanon and for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers killed in a Hezbollah 
attack in 2000. Israel is currently holding close to 9,000 Palestinian 
prisoners, though the number of Lebanese prisoners is believed to be much 

The White House released a statement condemning the Hezbollah raid, calling it 
an ³unprovoked act of terrorism² and holding Syria and Iran responsible because 
of their longstanding support for the group. The United Nations representative 
to southern Lebanon, Gier Pedersen, also criticized the raid, calling it ³an act
of very dangerous proportions.²

The fighting on the Lebanese border erupted around 9 a.m., when Hezbollah 
attacked several Israeli towns with rocket fire, wounding several civilians, the
Israeli military said. But that attack was a diversion for the main operation, 
several miles to the east, where Hezbollah militants fired antitank missiles at 
two armored Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence, the 
military said. Of the seven soldiers in the two jeeps, three were killed, two 
wounded and two abducted, the military said.

Israel then responded with artillery fire, airstrikes and a naval bombardment 
that focused on about 40 sites in southern Lebanon. Most were believed to be 
Hezbollah strongholds, but roads and bridges were also hit in an attempt to keep
Hezbollah from moving the captured soldiers farther north, according to the 
military. At least 2 Lebanese civilians were killed and more than 10 wounded in 
southern Lebanon, Lebanese officials said.

Israel also sent ground forces into Lebanon, and a tank hit an explosive planted
in the road, killing all four soldiers inside, the Israeli military said. 
Another soldier was killed while trying to rescue those in the tank.

The Israeli incursion was the first such operation in southern Lebanon since 
Israel pulled its troops back into Israel in 2000, ending two decades of 

Political and military analysts in Egypt and Israel said the recent events 
seemed to stem from a growing relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah. While 
there is no direct evidence of coordinated attacks, several analysts said they 
believed that the two kidnappings were part of a plan reflecting a trend that 
began several years ago, with Hezbollah trying to teach Hamas its methods. ³What
took place from Hezbollah today, in my opinion, is tied to their relationship 
with Hamas,¹¹ said Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, Deputy Director of the Ahram Center 
for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt. ³Hezbollah developed a strong 
relationship with Hamas, the most manifest form of this relationship is 
Hezbollah¹s role in training the Hamas cadres.²

Hezbollah and Hamas are part of a complex four-way relationship with each other 
and Iran and Syria. Iran helped to create, finance and train Hezbollah. Hamas¹s 
political leader, Khaled Meshal, lives and works in Damascus. The expectation 
among political and foreign affairs analysts is that Hamas and Hezbollah would 
never have taken such provocative actions without at least the tacit approval of
their sponsors in Tehran or Damascus.

Meanwhile, Gaza endured another bloody day. Hours before the Hezbollah attack on
Wednesday, Israeli troops moved in force into central Gaza for the first time, 
expanding the operation intended to secure the release of the captured soldier 
there, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and stop rocket fire into Israel. Israeli tanks, 
armored personnel carriers and armored bulldozers entered at the Kissufim 
crossing on the eastern side of Gaza and cut off the southern third of the 
territory from the rest of the strip.

The Israeli Air Force also dropped a bomb on a home in Gaza City at around 3 
a.m., saying its targets were Hamas leaders. But the blast killed nine members 
of the Salmiyeh family, according to Dr. Jumaa al-Saqqa, the spokesman for Al 
Shifa Hospital, where the bodies were taken. There were visiting Hamas leaders 
in the house at the time of the bombing, but they escaped with only minor 
injuries, Palestinians said.

The owner of the house, Nabil Abu Salmiyeh, who was reported to be a Hamas 
member, was killed along with his wife, Salwa, and seven of their children, ages
7 to 18, Dr. Saqqa said. The Israeli military said the main target was Muhammad 
Deif, the head of Hamas¹s armed wing. Israel says Mr. Deif is behind scores of 
attacks against Israeli civilians. The military, which has tried to kill Mr. 
Deif at least four times in recent years, said he was wounded. But Hamas 
officials refused to say whether Mr. Deif was at the house at the time of the 
bombing, and insisted he was safe.

In two separate gun battles near the town of Deir al-Balah, Israeli soldiers 
killed 10 Palestinian militants and wounded at least 7, Palestinian security and
medical officials said. At least 12 more Palestinians were killed in other Gaza 
incidents, many of them in airstrikes around Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah.

Early on Thursday, a strike by Israeli aircraft heavily damaged the Foreign 
Ministry building in Gaza. There were reports of injuries, though it was unclear
whether they included people inside the ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, 
or in nearby buildings.

In Beirut, residents gave out sweets in celebration of the kidnapping, while 
convoys of young men drove through the downtown district, waving Hezbollah¹s 
yellow flag.

Fouad Siniora, Lebanon¹s prime minister, sought to distance the government from 
the Hezbollah raid after an emergency cabinet meeting. He noted that the 
Lebanese government was ³not aware of and does not take responsibility for, nor 
endorses what happened on the international border.²

Greg Myre reported from Jerusalem for this article, and Steven Erlanger from 
Gaza City. Hassan M. Fattah contributed reporting from Beirut, and Michael 
Slackman from Cairo.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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