VIDEO - Four days into fighting in Lebanon, and the IDF once again absorbs a heavy blow: Four IDF soldiers went missing Friday night when their navy gunship suffered a direct hit in a Hizbullah strike.
The stern of the ship was hit shortly after 8:30 p.m. Friday night and a conflagration ignited on the helicopter landing pad. The hit also damaged the ship’s internal operating systems.
After the naval commanders managed to extinguish the blaze, they began a crew count, which revealed that four crewmembers were missing. Forces were carrying out extensive searches in the area to find the four. Reinforcements were called to the scene and were searching for the sailors under heavy enemy fire.
The IDF expressed concern that the four were wounded in the blast and fell into the sea. The families of the soldiers were informed.
The ship was towed back to the Israeli port of Haifa. An initial investigation revealed that the vessel was apparently struck by a missile, not a booby-trapped remote control drone as previously thought.
The damaged vessel was a Saar 5 navy gunship that was 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Lebanese shore when it was hit while enforcing the sea blockade which was imposed on Lebanon Thursday.
The ship arrived at the Haifa navy base port Saturday morning; searches continued for the four missing crewmembers.
Just Thursday, hours after the navy began enforcing the sea blockade on Lebanon, head of naval operations Brig.-Gen. Noam Feig told Ynet that the navy was acting under the assumption of an existant threat.
He noted that the ships' officers were instructed in the proper protocol to avoid being targeted by Hizbullah. Until Friday no attempt to hit navy war ships had been made, but according to a senior commander the navy had never ruled out such scenarios, including hits by explosives laden boats.
Nasrallah: You wanted open war
Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah was the first to report of the attack on the Israeli ship.
Speaking defiantly in an audiotape aired on Hizbullah's Al-Manar television, Nasrallah addressed himself to Israelis, saying: "You wanted an open war and we are ready for an open war."
"Soon you will find how stupid your new government is and how it is incapable of reading the situation. It has no experience. You said in your opinion polls that you believe me more than anyone else. Believe me now – you attacked every house in Lebanon and you will pay for that," he said.
"Look at the warship that has attacked Beirut, while it burns and sinks before your very eyes," Nasrallah said. It was not clear whether he meant that the warship had already been attacked. Officials would not give the vessel's exact location.
Nasrallah spoke after Israeli missiles struck Hizbullah headquarters and his house in southern Beirut. His address, however, appeared to be pre-recorded, and Nasrallah did not refer to the missile attack on his offices and residence.
Nasrallah's announcement was greeted with heavy celebratory fire that rang out across the Lebanese capital.
The Hezbollah leader repeated a threat to hit the Israeli coastal city of Haifa and other towns farther south. "We will reach Haifa, and believe me, even beyond Haifa."
"Our homes will not be the only ones to be destroyed, our children will not be the only ones to die," Nasrallah added.
- A few explosions were heard along the eastern section of the Lebanon border early Saturday morning, after which Shlomi residents were instructed to enter bomb shelters; No casualties or damage were reported.
- Eyewitnesses in Lebanon said that overnight the IAF attacked a petrol facility located near the village of Ras el-Ayin in the south of the country; no injuries were reported. Local police said five people were killed and eight others were injured in another attack on south Lebanon. Among those killed are two Syrian working in the country, police said.
- Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Senior told CNN television that "Hizbullah made a grave tactical mistake" when it decided to kidnap Israeli soldiers, adding that the group didn't make the decision on its own.Seniora said Israel's military operation is an opportunity for the international community to solve the problem of Palestinian refugees which has existed since 1948.
- On Friday night, just before midnight, two Katyusha barrages were fired toward Moshav Dovev on the northern border. The rockets landed in open areas, and no injuries were reported. Rockets also landed near the Malachiya, Dishon and Safsufa communities in the Galilee; no injuries were reported. In Meron a woman and her four-year-old grandson were killed.
Ahiya Raved contributed to the report