VIDEO - Eight IDF soldiers were killed in fighting with Hizbullah Wednesday along the northern border and inside Lebanese territory. Three were killed when Hizbullah operatives attacked their patrol, and four more were killed when their tank drove up on a roadside bomb as they pursued the Hizbullah operatives, who also kidnapped two soldiers.
Three of the soldiers killed in the Hizbullah attack were identified as 22-year-old Staff Sergeant Eyal Banin from Beer Sheva, 24-year-old Sergeant First Class Shani Turgeman of Beit Shean and 27-year-old Wassam Nazal from the town of Jat-Yanuch.
Nineteen-year old Nimrod Cohen of Mitzpeh Shalem was killed during efforts to retrieve the bodies of the tank crew members.
The cabinet has convened for a special session due to the escalations in the north, following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's consultations with security officials.
IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz advised the government to authorize a harsh operation that would "change the rules of the game."
Prior to the special cabinet session, Defense Minister Amir Peretz authorized a series of operations against Hizbullah strongholds in southern Lebanon.
Head of the IDF Northern Command Major-General Udi Adam explained during a press conference the events on the northern border: "This morning an IDF patrol was attacked in the area between Shtulah and Zarit. The patrol consisted of two armored Hummer vehicles, and three soldiers were killed. Four other soldiers were killed in the chase."
"Since the beginning of the attack the IDF has been retaliating intensively and is preparing to protect Israeli civilians and prevent the terror from Lebanon,” added Adam. "We assume that the two abducted soldiers are alive. There are blood stains at the scene, and this is indicative of their condition."
Adam continued: “We are in close contact with the residents if northern Israel; we have instructed residents in some areas to enter bomb shelters. We hold the Lebanese government responsible for everything that goes on in its territory and is directed toward Israel."
Shortly after 9 a.m. Hizbullah began its heavy bombardment of northern Israel communities, causing residents to enter bomb shelters. However, the initial attack was a mere diversion from the simultaneous kidnapping operation.
The terrorists fired RPG shells at an IDF Hummer jeep traveling in the Zarit area near the security fence, considered to be a weak spot due to its location.
Following the attack on the Hummer, Hizbullah terrorists crossed the border into Israel. During the raid three IDF reserve soldiers were killed and two others were wounded – one sustained light injuries while the other was seriously wounded; the Hizbullah members also managed to kidnap two more IDF soldiers (one of the soldiers abducted was the Hummer’s driver) into Lebanese territory.
The body of one IDF soldier was found near the terrorists’ escape route inside Lebanese territory, causing IDF officials to believe that the terrorists attempted to abduct him as well.
According to Hizbullah TV, the abducted soldiers were taken to “a secure location, far away.”
The IDF responded by sending forces deep into Lebanon – six years after the withdrawal from the security strip – in an effort to retrieve the kidnapped soldiers. Heavy exchanges of fire took place, and Hizbullah said it had destroyed a tank that tried to cross the border into Lebanon; the IDF confirmed that the tank drove over a large bomb, resulting in the death of all four crew members.
The Merkava 2 tank was not equipped with an armor shield against bombs, but army sources said that the deaths could not have been prevented even the tank had been better protected.
The operation aimed at locating the abducted troops and the bodies of the fallen soldiers is being carried out under heavy enemy fire; the army has not been able to retrieve the soldiers’ bodies as of yet.
IDF sources said the Hizbullah terrorists began to evacuate their outposts only a short time before the attack, adding that there was no sign they were planning a large-scale operation inside Israeli territory.