Hezbollah Snipers Kill Two IDF Soldiers on Northern Border

PM orders security officials to keep the incident 'local,' not to undertake a retaliatory operation against Hezbollah, Lebanese or Syrian targets.

Two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed Tuesday when Hezbollah snipers fired at their military position on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Sergeant Itai Iluz, 21, of Afula, was identified as one of the two casualties. The second victim was identified as Sergeant Major Avishai Korisky, 24, of Upper Nazareth.

The snipers fired at the Nurit outpost, located along the western section of the border, mortally wounding the two soldiers. They died of their wounds a short time later.

The two soldiers were fixing a problem with an antenna on the roof of the post, not far from Moshav Zarit, when they were spotted by the snipers, who then opened fire.

They may have been violating orders by going up on the roof. Israel Radio reported that neither of the two were wearing flak jackets and it was a long time before the post learned that they had been injured.

In response, Israeli planes flew over Beirut, breaking the sound barrier and drawing anti-aircraft fire, Lebanese security sources said.

The sonic boom echoed across the Lebanese capital, shaking windows in the center of the city. Witnesses heard anti-aircraft fire from Beirut's southern suburbs.

Israel said it flew over the Lebanese capital to send a message to the government in Beirut and to Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government filed an official complaint about Israeli actions to the United Nations Security Council, sources in Beirut's Foreign Ministry told the Reuters news agency.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave the order Tuesday to keep the incident "local," meaning not to undertake a major operation against Hezbollah, Lebanese or Syrian targets in retaliation.

Immediately after the two soldiers were killed, an IDF tank and Israel Air Force helicopter gunship returned fire toward the Hezbollah post and destroyed it.

IDF helicopters later attacked another Hezbollah post twice which was a former IDF outpost prior to Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, apparently killing a Hezbollah militant.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli return of fire by firing anti-aircraft shells at Israeli territory. Several fragments hit a northern Galilee moshav, causing a fire.

Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah said Tuesday's skirmish began when Israeli forces shelled its positions by the town of Eita al-Shaab.

But Israel insists Hezbollah had started the fighting and that the Israeli army would continue to operate against any party "involved in terrorism against Israeli citizens".

"This was a premeditated sniper attack on one of the outposts," Israeli army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal told the Reuters news agency. "We responded with fire toward the Hezbollah position."

The IDF was on high alert along the northern border Tuesday for the second day running, after Hezbollah blamed Israel for assassinating an official in the militant group Monday.

Northern Command Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz said that the alert would remain in effect for as long as the IDF perceived a Hezbollah threat. "We'll continue keeping our eyes on he events in the coming hours and days and do everything we can not to disturb the residents of the area." But he added that "there is a significant threat emerging here that is creating an explosive situation that could explode." Gantz blamed Syria and Iran for the tension, as the patrons for the Hezbollah. But the assessment in Jerusalem was the incident was over, at least for now. Israel is hardly interested in an escalation, and neither is Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's accused Israel of killing Ghaleb Awali, 40, despite a statement by an underground group of extremist Sunni Muslims in which they claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Awali was killed Monday when a car bomb exploded in the southern Beirut suburb of Harat Hreik, a Hezbollah spokesman said.

"We have executed one of the symbols of treachery, the Shi'ite Jaleb Awali," said the statement by Jund al-Sham (Soldiers of Damascus).

However, the head of the Hezbollah press office, Sheikh Hassan Izzeddin, blamed the Mossad intelligence service for the killing.

The IDF Northern Command warned Monday that Hezbollah could take advantage of the assassination and use it as a pretext to harm Israel, which the group has been trying to do for some time.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened "to cut off the hands of whoever killed" Awali, who belonged to a group that has supported the Palestinians.

"He is a saint of Jerusalem, of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the struggle against the Zionist project," Nasrallah said at Awali's funeral.