Fighting in the North & South ? Police on High Alert

Wednesday was a day of heavy fighting along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon following the Hizbullah attack which left 8 soldiers dead and 2 in captivity.

Yechiel Spira, | updated: 06:22

At about 9:00am, Hizbullah terrorists attacked an IDF border patrol from inside Israel. The terrorists managed to enter several hundred meters into Israeli territory, surprising the patrol from the Israeli side of the border patrol road. Rockets were fired at the Hummer armored patrol vehicle, claiming the lives of three of the soldiers. Two soldiers were taken hostage. The terrorists also tried dragging one of the bodies with them, but the body was later recovered in Lebanese territory by soldiers. It is presumed the fleeing terrorists felt the body was slowing them down too much, opting to leave it behind.

While blood stains indicate the soldiers were wounded, officials believe that since the amount of blood was minimal, their injuries are not serious.

As the events began unfolding, realizing two soldiers were indeed in Hizbullah custody as the terror organization claimed; IDF Chief of Staff Lt-General Dan Halutz convened an urgent session of his General Staff. Tanks and ground forces escorted by fighter jets and helicopter gunships entered southern Lebanon, fighting against the clock to prevent terrorists from moving the soldiers deep into Lebanon.

One of the first tanks to cross into southern Lebanon triggered an extremely powerful bomb, ripping it apart and killing four soldiers inside.

Helicopters and fighter planes began bombing bridges in the area as part of the effort to limit the terrorists’ escape route.

Hizbullah continued attacks, firing Katyusha rockets and mortar shells at northern Israel during the day. Other attacks did not result in injuries but an eighth soldier who was seriously wounded during the morning hours succumbed to his injuries later in the day.

IDF officials early Thursday morning report that during the night, the air force attacked some 150 targets, including ten bridges in the Litani area.

Residents of Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona and other northern areas were instructed to enter safe rooms and shelters due to the situation, numbering some 200,000 people.

A number of retired senior IDF commanders including former northern commander Yossi Peled warned that the situation has escalated to a point that it should never have been permitted to reach, explaining that both Haifa and Hadera are now well within Hizbullah rocket range. Peled stated Hizbullah has been permitted to arm itself and continue positioning rockets towards Israel for too many years.

Shai Avital, a retired major-general known for his moderate views, a former Sayeret Matkal commander as well as northern district commander, told Israel Television on Wednesday night that Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah must be eliminated by the IDF, adding that even if innocent civilians must be killed to accomplish this goal, Nasrallah must be taken out. His words were echoed by Likud MK Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister.

Senior commanders are aware that a stern IDF response may indeed result in longer-range Hizbullah rockets being directed at central Israel. Retired Major-General Yaakov Amidror, a respected former senior intelligence community officer, told the media on Wednesday night that Hizbullah must be dismantled, but he painted a bleak scenario, adding “this will take a year, a costly year, with many casualties.” Amidror warned that once the IDF gets deep into Lebanon -- beginning to dismantle the Hizbullah infrastructure, rockets would undoubtedly be directed at Haifa and Hadera, warning those cities are not equipped as are Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya, cities that have lived with the constant threat of rocket attacks from Lebanon.

The brazen Hizbullah assault brought shouts of victory and support from Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled Gaza, where Kassam rocket launches against southern Israel continued throughout the day.

Heavy fighting was reported in Gaza too, as the IDF counter-terrorism operation continues in the hope of bringing an end to the rocket fire as well as freeing IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who fell into enemy hands during the terror attack in Kerem Shalom on 25 June.

The cabinet on Wednesday night met in special session to discuss the attacks across Israel’s sovereign border in the north. While the cabinet gave the green light for an appropriate response, the ministers agreed a smaller forum would make the actual decisions. That forum includes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff.

Following the cabinet meeting, Minister Yitzchak Herzog issued a brief statement to the media, indicating the government is well-aware that the situation demands a very serious response, one that will teach Hizbullah that such acts of war are too costly. The only minister not in agreement was Shimon Peres, who fears too harsh a response will bring Israel into a war along the northern border.

In the meantime, the northern resort areas are beginning to empty as visitors to hotels, bed and breakfasts and the many other locales feel the situation is too dangerous. Area operators on Wednesday night reported that cancellations for the weekend were quick in coming as the news of the heavy fighting dominated the airwaves during the day.

The process of activating reserve duty soldiers has already begun; with the units being well-prepared officials explain. Those being called to the north have recently completed a large-scale training exercise simulating the type of Hizbullah attack that occurred on Wednesday, one that would result in soldiers crossing into southern Lebanon as a result.

The international community is calling for restraint on all sides. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan on Wednesday called for the immediate release of the IDF soldiers, condemning the Hizbullah attack “without reservation”.

Israel Police on Wednesday morning is operating on heightened alert status nationwide, a level 3 alert, one under a state-of-emergency, with intelligence community officials reporting there are dozens of terror warnings.

AS WE GO TO PRINT: The air force is attacking Beirut International Airport according to a Galei Tzahal (Army) Radio report.

Following are the names of five of the eight soldiers who fell in the line of duty on Wednesday. The other names are not yet cleared for publication.
1) Staff Sergeant Eyal Benin, 22 from Be’er Sheva
2) Sergeant First Class Shani Turgeman, 24 from Beit Shean
3) Sgt. Nimrod Cohen, 19, from Mitzpei Shalem
4) Sergeant First Class Wassam Nazal, 27, from Jat
5) Sergeant Yaniv Bar-On