Israeli warplanes struck Beirut’s international airport and blasted southern Lebanon for a second day, widening it’s offensive against the terrorist group Hizballah and other Lebanese targets from the air, ground and sea, military officials said.
About 20 civilians were reportedly killed, local media said. The Israeli military confirmed it had targeted the airport because it “is a central hub for the transfer of weapons and supplies to the Hizballah terrorist organization.”
Israel’s attacks began Wednesday after Hizballah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack and subsequent retaliation.
Hizballah terrorists on Wednesday fired a barrage of rockets at communities in northern Israel then crossed the border and launched a surprise attack on two Israeli Humvees, killing three soldiers, wounding two and capturing the two others, the Israeli army said.
Israel quickly sent armored vehicles over the border on a rescue mission, but one of the tanks rolled over a large mine, killing the four soldiers inside and sparking a battle that killed another soldier, the army said.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz advised the government to authorize a harsh operation that would “change the rules of the game.”
Hizballah’s brash raid into Israel opened a second front for the Israeli army. The army is still fighting Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip as well, trying to recover another soldier captured more than two weeks ago by Hamas-linked militants and put a stop to rocket fire into southern Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Hizballah raid an “act of war” by Lebanon.
US National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said his government holds Syria and Iran, direct Hizballah supporters, responsible for the attack as well.
“This is a terrorist attack and it is clearly timed to exacerbate already high tensions in the region and sow further violence,” he said.
Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said he would free the Israeli soldiers only in a prisoner swap, adding that he was open to a package deal that would include the release of the soldier held in Gaza.
At least 23 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Wednesday. On Thursday, an Israeli air strike destroyed the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Foreign Ministry building.