2 IDF soldiers killed in anti-tank missile attack on Lebanon border; Hezbollah takes credit

One Spanish UN peacekeeper was killed in the Israeli return fire, and Israel has apologized for the incident, the source said.

A burnt vehicle is seen near the village of Ghajar on Israel's border with Lebanon (photo credit: REUTERS)
A burnt vehicle is seen near the village of Ghajar on Israel's border with Lebanon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon attacked IDF vehicles traveling in the village of Ghajar in the Galilee panhandle with Kornet anti-tank missiles on Wednesday, killing two IDF soldiers and wounding seven others.
Maj. Yochai Kalangel, 25, will be buried at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery today at 11 a.m. St.-Sgt. Dor Haim Nini, 20, will be laid to rest at Shtulim Cemetery at 3 p.m.
The terrorists launched five or six anti-tank missiles from a distance of at least four kilometers from their targets, striking the vehicles as they drove two kilometers from the international border.
In the heavy Hezbollah ambush, a military D-Max vehicle containing a company commander and his driver from the Givati Brigade was the first vehicle hit.
This prompted all of those inside an IDF jeep behind it to quickly evacuate their vehicle before it, too, was hit and destroyed with missiles.
The lightly wounded soldiers were riding in nearby military vehicles.
An IDF source stressed that the vehicles were traveling on a road used jointly by military and civilian traffic, and that civilian cars were also in the vicinity of the attack. One house in the village was also struck by a Hezbollah missile.
“It’s too soon to draw conclusions about whether the vehicles should have been armored,” the source said.
“We will investigate the incident.”
The IDF used artillery and tanks to fire at Hezbollah targets near the Lebanese border in the minutes following the incident. One Spanish UN peacekeeper was killed in the Israeli return fire, and Israel has apologized for the incident, the source said.
“We regret the incident and are in touch with the United Nations,” he added.
“We are continuing to manage this, and remain on very high alert,” said the officer.
“One peacekeeper was killed. We are looking into the circumstances of this tragic incident,” said Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed the death of a Spanish soldier in Lebanon and said in a Twitter message that he sent his condolences to the soldier’s family.
Tenenti said the head of UNIFIL was in close contact with all parties and had urged “maximum restraint” to prevent an escalation.
UNIFIL has more than 10,000 troops in Lebanon after its expansion under the UN Security Council resolution that halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon.
It operates alongside Lebanese troops who are deployed in the South to keep peace near the frontier with Israel and prevent weapon transfers in an area that is a stronghold of Hezbollah.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz arrived at the Northern Command and held a special evaluation with OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and additional senior officers.
Earlier, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz described the two incidents that constituted the double-pronged Hezbollah attack. In the first, an anti-tank missile fired from southern Lebanon struck an IDF vehicle traveling with other military vehicles, resulting in “a number of injures” among IDF soldiers.
Soon afterward, mortar shells launched from Syria were fired at IDF positions on Mount Dov and Mount Hermon.
The army evacuated dozens of people from Mount Hermon for the second day in a row, shutting the site.
“We view Hezbollah as responsible,” Almoz said.
“This is not necessarily the end of the IDF’s response,” he warned.
“We are continuing to manage this incident from the Northern Command,” he added.
The Haifa and Rosh Pina airports were temporarily closed midday Wednesday due to military air operations, according to the Airports Authority. Commercial flights to and from Eilat resumed in the late afternoon, but private flights and light planes at the airports were forbidden to travel.
Late on Tuesday night, the Israel Air Force struck Syrian army artillery targets in response to an earlier rocket attack on the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.
“The IDF views the Syrian regime as responsible for what occurs in its territory, and will act at any time and any way it sees fit to protect the citizens of Israel,” the IDF said.
The targets were accurately hit, the IDF added.
Confirmation of the strike came minutes following reports of air raid sirens being heard on the Golan Heights, which later proved to be false alarms.
Two rockets exploded in the northern Golan Heights on Tuesday, triggering air raid sirens and sending local residents, including some 1,000 visitors to the Mount Hermon ski site, fleeing for cover.
The projectiles exploded in open territory, failing to cause injuries or damage.
The IDF quickly returned fire, directing artillery fire at the source of rocket fire.
Hezbollah said one of its brigades in the area along the border with Israel had carried out the attack.
According to a statement read out on the Hezbollah- run TV station Al-Manar, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters had killed and wounded a number of Israeli soldiers in an operation targeting an Israeli military convoy in the frontier area.
In a communique, Hezbollah described Wednesday’s operation as “statement No. 1,” indicating that a further response is possible. Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah is expected to announce the group’s formal reaction to the air strike, attributed to Israel, on Friday.
“In the name of God the merciful, statement No. 1. At 11:35 this morning, the Quneitra Martyrs’ brigade of the Islamic resistance targeted an Israeli military convoy of several vehicles including a number of Zionists officials and soldiers with the appropriate missiles, which caused the destruction of a number of them [vehicles] and the occurrence of casualties among the enemy.”
The attack in the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area was in response to an Israeli rocket attack in Syria, a source said.
Hezbollah had evacuated its security positions in its stronghold of south Beirut before its attack against Israel, a Lebanese source said, according to the Anadolu Agency, the official government news agency of Turkey.
In Beirut, celebratory gunfire rang out after the attack, while residents in the southern suburbs of the city, where Hezbollah is strong, packed their bags and prepared to evacuate neighborhoods that were heavily bombed by Israel in 2006.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam called on the international community to restrain Israel from attacking Lebanon and said his country is committed to upholding UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war.
“Israeli escalation in the border area could open the door to dangerous possibilities, which will not serve peace and stability in the region,” Salam said according to the Beirut-based Daily Star.
However, the senior political figure Samir Gagea, who is part of the anti-Hezbollah March 14 alliance, held the Shi’ite party responsible for the violence.
“Today’s development indicates that Hezbollah is more and more expanding its regional schemes against the Lebanese state,” he said, adding, “Hezbollah has no right to implicate the Lebanese people in a battle with Israel. There is a government and a parliament which can decide on that,” the Daily Star reported.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard said in a statement on Wednesday that it stands by Hezbollah.
“The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps will stand by the fighters of the Islamic Resistance in all battlefields against the criminal Zionists,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.
Sharon Udasin and Reuters contributed to this report.