i hope hezbollah tortures these bastards in ways never imagined! and its true that 7 other zionist soldiers were killed. this is the happiest day of my life
BEIRUT, Lebanon - The Hezbollah militant group captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Lebanese border on Wednesday, triggering an Israeli assault with warplanes, tanks and gunboats as Israeli troops crossed the frontier to hunt for the captives.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the guerrilla attack "an act of war" and warned that Hezbollah would pay a "heavy price" for its actions.
Israeli warplanes struck two bridges over the Litani River deep in southern Lebanon, killing two civilians on the main north-south highway between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, Lebanese security officials said. The pan-Arab satellite TV al-Arabiya station said that at least seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, and that several more were wounded.
The Israeli army confirmed casualties among the soldiers, but did not comment on the reports of possible deaths.
Israeli troops crossed into a southwestern sector of Lebanon, near where the soldiers were seized, trying to keep their captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli security officials said. Hezbollah said it destroyed an Israeli tank as it tried to cross the frontier.
The clashes came after Israel sharply escalated its military campaign in Gaza in an effort to press Palestinian militants to release another Israeli soldier who was captured during a raid across the Israel-Gaza border last month. Israel dropped a quarter-ton bomb on a Gaza home Wednesday in a failed attempt to assassinate top Hamas fugitives, killing seven children and two adults.
"These are difficult days for the state of Israel and its citizens," Olmert said. "There are people ... who are trying to test our resolve. They will fail and they will pay a heavy price for their actions."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, on a visit to Cairo, Egypt, said Wednesday's capture of the two Israeli soldiers was "a very dangerous escalation" that "puts at risk all the effort that's being put forth by many to find a solution to the current situation" involving the captured soldier in Gaza.
It was not known whether Hezbollah planned Wednesday's operation to snatch the two Israelis in coordination with Hamas. But one Hamas leader suggested the two groups would cooperate over their demands for a prisoner swap.
"We have proven to this enemy (Israel) that the one option is the release of Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab captives. All captives, without exception," Osama Hamdan, Hamas' spokesman in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera television.
The military arm of the Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah said in a statement that its fighters captured two Israeli soldiers "on the border with occupied Palestine, fulfilling the promise to liberate its prisoners" held by Israel. In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the group said "the prisoners have been moved to a safe area."
Israel's Defense Ministry confirmed Israeli soldiers had been captured, saying the Lebanese government was responsible for their safety. The military, meanwhile, ordered residents of Israeli towns along the northern border to seek cover in underground bomb shelters.
Jubilant residents of south Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, fired their guns in the air and set off firecrackers for more than an hour after the capture of the Israeli soldiers was announced.
In the main Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in Sidon, southern Lebanon, Palestinians set off fireworks.
As Israeli aircraft struck roads, bridges and Hezbollah guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon, Lebanese army anti-aircraft opened fire at them, the Lebanese security officials said on conditions of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The new capture of the soldiers opens a second front for Israel during its standoff with Hamas in Gaza. An Israeli offensive in Gaza since the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25 has killed at least 60 Palestinians, including the nine civilians killed Wednesday.
The nighttime aerial attack in Gaza was bound to intensify international criticism of Israel. The United Nations has already complained about what it said was disproportionate use of Israeli force in the Gaza operation.
The Israeli military said Mohammed Deif, the leader of the Hamas military wing and No. 1 on Israel's wanted list for more than a decade, was wounded in the airstrike, but it didn't know how badly. Hamas confirmed that Deif was targeted, but denied he was wounded.
Abu Obeideh, spokesman for Hamas' military wing, issued an unusually strong condemnation of the attack, using language employed only when Israel has assassinated top Hamas leaders. "We will make the leaders of the Zionist regime regret this Nazi crime," said part of his long statement.
Hamas-linked militants have demanded the release of at least some of the estimated 9,000 prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Shalit's freedom.
But Hamdan's comments suggested the group may toughen its stance after Hezbollah's grab of two more soldiers. He said there may be subsequent "coordination and an understanding" between the two groups.
Israel has carried out several prisoner swaps with Hezbollah in the past to obtain freedom for captures Israelis. These include a January 2004 swap in which an Israeli civilian and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers were exchanged for 436 Arab prisoners and the bodies of 59 Lebanese fighters. In 1985, three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon in 1982 were traded for 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.