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Hezbollah Raid Opens 2nd Front for Israel
The attack by Hezbollah, a powerful, armed Shiite Muslim faction that takes part in the Lebanese government and effectively controls the border, created a quandary for Lebanon, Israel and the United States.
Israel moved deeper into the Gaza Strip -- where hospital officials said 23 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday, most of them civilians -- but has so far been unable to free the 19-year-old Israeli corporal who was kidnapped almost three weeks ago. It faces even more difficult terrain in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah draws most of its support.
The United States called the border attack a terrorist act, but U.S. officials appeared reluctant to see fighting wreck a country that has emerged as one of the success stories of Bush administration policy in the Middle East. Lebanon's government, in a carefully worded statement, said it had no knowledge of the attack and was not responsible for it.
Wednesday's death toll on the border was the highest for the Israeli military in major fighting since April 9, 2002, when 13 of its soldiers were killed during fighting in the West Bank city of Jenin. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed in the day's fighting.
After the abduction, Israeli troops entered Lebanon in force for the first time since May 2000, when the military ended its presence on a rocky, hilly swath of southern Lebanon that it had first occupied in 1978. Four Israeli soldiers were killed when their tank struck a mine, and Hezbollah broadcast video footage of what was described as the wreckage through the day.
The eighth slain soldier was killed trying to retrieve the ruined tank and the remains of his colleagues in the evening, the Israeli army said. A small contingent of Israeli troops remained inside the Lebanese border as darkness fell, trying to recover the remains of the dead soldiers.
From midmorning Wednesday, Israeli forces struck dozens of targets -- bridges, roads, power stations and Hezbollah posts -- in what the military called an effort to slow the movements of the soldiers' captors.
On Lebanon's Mediterranean coast south of Sidon, Israeli warplanes bombed at least five bridges in quick succession, effectively cutting southern Lebanon off from the rest of the country. At least two Lebanese civilians were killed in one of the strikes, civil defense officials said. Israeli gunboats shelled roads stretching north from the border town of Naqurah.
Scores of suddenly stranded Lebanese, their faces drawn, wandered back roads looking for a way home. As they walked, carrying bags, ambulances with their sirens blaring passed them in the other direction.
"We're scared, we're scared. From the moment of the attack until now, we're just scared," said Um Fatima, whose cousin, 40-year-old Mohammed Saghir, was one of those killed in an airstrike on a bridge.
On Israel's side of the border, Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah fighters landed in sage patches and eucalyptus groves. Small brush fires lit up some of the hills near Shtula, and smoke from smoldering roads and bridges in Lebanon appeared in the near distance, sending a dark smudge tailing south for miles at twilight.
The Israeli residents of agricultural towns and even some of the seaside beach resorts were ordered through loudspeakers into bomb shelters and warned of rocket attacks.