Israel Pounds Lebanon After Soldiers' Abduction Israel launches a military offensive into southern Lebanon following the capture of two soldiers by Hezbollah militants. Seven Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting. Nicholas Blanford, of The Christian Science Monitor, speaks with Madeleine Brand about the conflict.
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Israel Pounds Lebanon After Soldiers' Abduction

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Israel Pounds Lebanon After Soldiers' Abduction

Israel Pounds Lebanon After Soldiers' Abduction

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, the newspaper columnist who, three years ago, unmasked a CIA agent speaks at last and reveals what?

BRAND: But first, seven Israeli soldiers were killed today as they patrolled the border with Lebanon. Two others were kidnapped. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the attack an act of war. And Israel has responded, bombing Lebanese targets.

I'm joined now by Nicholas Blanford, a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. He is on the Israel-Lebanon border. And Nicholas, what do you see right now?

Mr. NICHOLAS BLANFORD (Correspondent, The Christian Science Monitor): This is an area where Hezbollah and the Israelis have clashed quite often in the past. And at the moment, they're being shelled quite heavily by the Israelis.

There's been a continuous shelling all afternoon, plus an air strike quite close to here. And I think what I've been watching is fairly typical of what's been happening all along the border, which is about 70 miles long altogether.

So, the Israelis have taken out some of the bridges connecting the top level into the rest of the country. So, effectively the south has been cut off.

BRAND: And Prime Minister Olmert has called this an unprovoked assault by a sovereign nation.

Mr. BLANFORD: Yes. I mean, the Israelis have been warning for some time, for months really, that Hezbollah has been, is considering or attempting to kidnap Israel soldiers from the border. The Hezbollah staged an attempt back in November of last year, a very complex military operation which went wrong and they didn't succeed in capturing anyone.

But it did highlight the fact that the Israelis, as well as everybody else, that Hezbollah is looking to catch some Israelis soldiers. And the reason for that, Hezbollah will say, is that there are still a few Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails - maybe four or five.

Almost six years ago, Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers from the Shebaa Farms area at the border. And they subsequently swapped them with Israel in January of 2004 for over 400 Lebanese and Palestinian detainees.

So clearly, Hezbollah is aiming to achieve the same goal: one, to secure the release of the last handful of Lebanese detainees; and two - also we should forget that this comes in the context of what's happening in Gaza at the moment, where another Israeli soldier is being held hostage. So Hezbollah will certainly calculate the capturing two Israeli soldiers along the Lebanon-Israel border is obviously going to add a lot more pressure on the Israeli government.

BRAND: So, you think that today's action is connected to the abduction of Gilad Shalit in Gaza two weeks ago?

Mr. BLANFORD: Yes, I think the connection is in the timing more than anything else. Hezbollah will calculate it's a good time to put pressure on the Israeli government. There's been a general outcry amongst ordinary Arabs about what's been happening in Gaza over the past two weeks.

So, Hezbollah, by staging this very audacious attack - I mean, I think this is really the most audacious attack in six years since Israel withdrew from South Lebanon. And this is going to, firstly, encourage the Palestinians. I think the Palestinians will be delighted. That's what happened to along the Lebanon-Israel borders today.

And it also sends a message to other Arabs that at least Hezbollah is doing something while their presidents, kings, dictators - what you will - really not doing an awful lot at the moment. But Hezbollah is out there defending, as they see it, the interests of the Palestinians against the Israeli aggression.

BRAND: Nicholas Blanford is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor along the Israel-Lebanon border. Thank you, Nicholas.

Mr. BLANFORD: You're welcome.

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