A day of fighting in the North: Twelve Israeli soldiers and civilians were hurt in one of the most ferocious Hizbullah offensives on the northern border since the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
Two soldiers sustained serious wounds in the attack, but their condition improved later in the evening. Meanwhile, at least five terrorists were killed in gunfights with IDF troops.
The offensive began around 3 p.m. Monday with a heavy barrage of mortar shells and Katyusha rockets directed at Mount Dov army posts and residential communities in the area. Following the strike, northern Israel residents were instructed to take cover in bomb shelters for the first time since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
IDF troops on northern border (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
IDF Northern Command officials estimate the heavy rocket fire was intended to distract army forces while a Hizbullah terror cell infiltrated Israel using all-terrain vehicles with the intension of abducting soldiers. Hizbullah members opened fire in all directions in an attempt to create mayhem and kidnap a soldier from an IDF base located in the village of Rajar. At least four terrorists were killed in the ensuing shootout.
An hour after the incident, other terrorists approached an IDF post in the Mount Dov area and opened fire at soldiers. At least one terrorist was killed in that incident.
Harsh response expected
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz summoned top IDF officials to his Tel Aviv office to evaluate the situation along the northern border. Mofaz blamed Syria and Iran for Hizbullah’s actions in a press conference held before the meeting.
The defense minister addressed residents of the north: “We are with you in this moment and we will do all for your safety. Iranian and Syrian interests are behind this fiery day. Both countries are trying to escalate the situation along the northern border to deviate the spotlight from Syria, which is under intense pressure, to Israel.”
The IDF is preparing a list of possible responses to Hizbullah’s attack, Ynet has learnt.
Exchanges of fire along the border continued throughout the evening, with a mortar shell hitting a house in the town of Metula. No injuries were reported, but the homeowner told Ynet the attack “took me back to the days before the withdrawal (from Lebanon.)”
Wounded soldier evacuated (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Later, officials went house-to-house in Metula and asked residents to turn off the lights at their homes.
The IDF retaliated with artillery fire while Israel Air Force combat helicopters and fighter jets struck at Hizbullah targets in Lebanon.
'It's a real battlefield here'
Miryam Mashash of Beit Hillel told Ynet, “It’s a real battlefield here; our forces bombed (Hizbullah posts) and helicopters are hovering above. We are only spectators, because the community is far from the scene of the attack, thank God.”
Smoke rising over northern border (Photo: Meshi Kopelvitch)
Ronit Antler from Metula said residents have been hearing explosions and fire exchanges throughout the afternoon.
“We don’t know what this is. In my opinion this hasn’t happened since the withdrawal from Lebanon,” she said. “It’s the first time. Since May 2000 they haven’t told us to go into bomb shelters. The children are rather frightened…it’s scary.”
The northern border was on heightened alert in recent weeks in light of warnings regarding possible Hizbullah attempts to inflame the area. Consequently, the IDF increased its activity along the border, and the travel of residents from a few small communities was limited.
Since the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah has made a point of “heating things up” once every few months to trigger a military response from Israel while its neighbor from the north is just beginning to get accustomed to its independence.
Moreover, Hizbullah’s attacks are also a result of the stalled deliberations on the exchange of prisoners, as the families of the Lebanese prisoners are applying heavy pressure to have the issue resolved.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report