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Israel on brink of Hezbollah war as soldiers are killed

By Staff Reporter

Israel stood on the brink of all-out conflict with Hezbollah yesterday after launching air and ground strikes against the Lebanese Shia group in retaliation for an attack that killed two soldiers and injured seven others.

A Spanish member of a United Nations peacekeeping force was also killed in the border town of Ghajar, which straddles the frontier between Israel and Lebanon.

The incidents amounted to the most dangerous escalation on Israel's northern border since the last war in Lebanon in 2006.

Israel told the United Nations it would take "all necessary measures" to defend itself.

"Israel will not stand by as Hezbollah targets Israelis," wrote Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, in a letter to the Security Council. "Israel will not accept any attacks on its territory and it will exercise its right to self-defence and take all necessary measures to protect its population."

The hostilities followed more than a week of sabre-rattling after an Israeli helicopter strike that killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander in a Syrian area of the Golan Heights on January 18.

In the first of two attacks yesterday, Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile at Israeli military vehicles in Shebaa Farms, an area of south Lebanon occupied by Israel, destroying at least two.

The dead soldiers were named as Sergeant Dor Chaim Nini (20) and Captain Yochai Kalangel (25) of the Givati Brigade.

Israel first responded by firing at least 25 artillery shells into Lebanon. Hezbollah then appears to have launched a second attack, firing mortar bombs at Israeli military positions on Mount Hermon, an area popular with tourists. The Israel Defence Forces then launched "combined aerial and ground strikes" on Lebanon.

"We have responded with ground forces and artillery and air forces in specific locations in response to the Hezbollah attacks," said Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, invoked last summer's 50-day conflict in the Gaza Strip to warn Hezbollah against further escalation.

"To anyone who tries to challenge us on the northern border, I suggest that they look at what happened here, at the Gaza Strip," he said.

The Spanish peacekeeper who died was Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo (36).

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