At least two South Korean soldiers died when North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at an island near the countries' disputed border. Sky News reports South Korea is warning North Korea it will retaliate if there's more violence. North Korea says the South started it; Reuters carried North Korea's response, warning of 'merciless' attacks if the border is violated.
The White House released a statement, castigating North Korea:
The United States strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement. The United States is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability.
Politico has the fuller comment from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
UPDATE at 6:40 am, EST
South Korea has been conducting a large set of military drills; the South Korea Herald reported last week the nine-day exercises were codenamed 'Hoguk'. On NPR's Morning Edition, Dongsen University professor Brian Myers says North Korea routinely complains about South Korean military exercises and threatens retaliation for them, but today's action goes much, much further.
We've seen a couple naval skirmishes in the region since 1999, we had another one in 2002, another one last year and of course we had the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel in March this year, but this is the first time since the Korean War that we've had an attack on civilian territory with artillery shells. So this is really, I would say, the worst act of aggression against South Korea that we've seen since the end of the Korean War.
It's unclear to which branch of military service the dead South Korean victims belonged. AFP now says the men were marines.