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Hizbullah's spiritual leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, lauded the Hizbullah for the attack in which seven IDF soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, he warned Israel that the Hizbullah would only release the captives in exchange for security prisoners.
"Our operation succeeded, we have results and honor," the sheikh declared. "We kept our promise to kidnap soldiers [to secure] the release of prisoners, and therefore are calling the attack 'Operation Promise Fulfilled.'"
The Lebanese government later rejected blame for the capture of the two soldiers and distanced itself from the Hizbullah operation on its territory Wednesday.
"The government did not know, and does not bear responsibility nor embrace what happened," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters after an emergency Cabinet meeting.
Nasrallah warned Israel not to attempt a rescue operation. "If Israel wants to retrieve [the soldiers] through military action, it's deluding itself," he said. "If the goal of this military operation is to free them, it won't work," Nasrallah cautioned.
The Hizbullah leader indicated that his group "might" release details on the kidnapped soldiers. "Maybe we'll release details in later announcements," he said, explaining that the attack was the "only way" to assure that Hizbullah security prisoners in Israel were freed. "It was the natural choice," he declared, adding that Wednesday's attack was "not a surprise to anyone."
"For more than a year, I've been saying that we want to kidnap soldiers in order to exchange prisoners," Nasrallah said. "Every time I said so, Israel went into high alert along the border. We decided to kidnap soldiers in order to end the matter of prisoners," he stated.
According to Nasrallah, other than the Katyusha launches Wednesday morning and the subsequent killing and abduction of soldiers, the Hizbullah has maintained quiet along the border. "We aren't responding [to the Israeli operations]," Nasrallah said.
"Lebanon is under pressure. Pressure from the US, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, foreign embassies. You can imagine the threats. We've stood these threats before. No military action will free the soldiers," Nasrallah reiterated.
Nasrallah maintained that the Hizbullah's goal was ultimately to make peace. "We don't want to drag the region into a war," he said. "We are eager for any opportunity to calm the situation." In fact, Nasrallah added, his organization "had no problem" with a proposed cease-fire. But, he said, "If Israel wants to increase violence, we're ready for a fight."
Turning his attention to the Israeli government, Nasrallah termed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "green," and pointed out that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz was relatively new in his position. Nasrallah said that they should turn to former Israeli leaders for advice.
"We've been preparing for this since Israel left Lebanon," Nasrallah said. "This isn't the Lebanon [Israel] knew. Our abilities are different, our morale is different," he promised, adding that if "Israel chooses a fight, it should be ready for surprises."
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