Israel launches offensive inside Lebanon

Israel launches offensive inside Lebanon 1MARJAYOUN, Lebanon – Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid Wednesday and dozens of Israeli troops crossed the frontier with warplanes, tanks and gunboats to hunt for the captives.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the soldiers’ capture “an act of war” and his Cabinet prepared to approve more military action in Lebanon — a second front in the fight against Islamic militants by Israel, which already is waging an operation to free a captured soldier in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli jets struck deep into southern Lebanon, blasting bridges and Hezbollah positions and killing two civilians, Lebanese security officials said.

The Israeli military planned to call up thousands of reservists, and residents of Israeli towns on the border with Lebanon were ordered to seek cover in underground bomb shelters.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said the Lebanese government was responsible for the two soldiers’ safety.

At least six Israeli soldiers were killed in the Hezbollah attack and Israeli response, the Lebanese officials said. The Israeli army confirmed casualties among its troops.

The United States, U.N., European Union, France and Germany expressed deep concern about the fighting. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the immediate release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers and condemned Israel’s retaliation in southern Lebanon.

Arab League concerns
The Arab League planned an urgent meeting on the crisis Thursday amid “fears of widening of tension and possible Israeli strike against Syria,” which backs Hezbollah, a senior league official in Cairo said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.