The two soldiers killed in Wednesday’s Hezbollah ambush along the northern border, Cpt. Yochai Kalengel and Sgt. Dor Nini, will be laid to rest Thursday as Israel considers its response to the attack, and the UN Security Council mulls possible action to defuse tensions in the region.
Kalengel, a 25-year-old company commander from the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, will be buried in Jerusalem at 11 a.m. He leaves behind a wife and a young daughter. Nini, 20, of the southern community of Shtulim, will be buried near his home at 14:30.
Ahead of the funerals Kalengel’s friend Ziv Shilon — a military captain who lost an arm in the Gaza Strip in a 2012 border bombing — called him “a superb commander, a wonderful friend, an amazing dad and above all an incomparable human being.
“There are no words to describe the pain we feel,” Shilon wrote on his Facebook page. “We found ourselves sitting at home together, helpless, praying that someone will wake us from this nightmare.”
The border region remained quiet throughout the night. On Thursday morning Israeli military forces renewed digging work along the border to rule out the possibility of offensive tunnels being dug under ground. The work had been stopped Wednesday morning following the attack.
The two soldiers’ vehicle was hit by the first of five Kornet guided anti-tank missiles fired at an IDF convoy near Ghajar, on a civilian road near the border. Other soldiers in the convoy evacuated their vehicles when the first missile struck, preventing further loss of life, though sven soldiers were injured. The missiles were said to have been fired from a distance of some 4.5 kilometers.
Following the attack communities along the border entered emergency mode, preparing for a possible escalation and further Hezbollah attacks that, so far, have not come. Some roads were closed off for several hours. Residents of Ghajar who were away from the Arab border village during the attack were prevented from returning to their homes and families until the evening.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel could retaliate harshly for the attack.
The army, meanwhile, said it would investigate why the two vehicles hit by the anti-tank missiles were unarmored. IDF spokesperson Moti Almoz refused to respond to inquiries as to why the soldiers were traveling in unarmored vehicles along the road to Ghajar, and asked for patience to await the results of the investigation.
An IDF source who spoke to the Ynet news site said that “the jeep that was hit wasn’t armored, and I don’t think that this has that much significance,” implying that the missiles might have penetrated armored vehicles too.
The prime minister blamed Iran for the attacks, which apparently came in response to an alleged Israeli airstrike on Hezbollah and Iranian operatives in Syria on January 18, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Israel responded to Wednesday’s attack with artillery strikes on Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon. Two Lebanese officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel targeted the border villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba with at least 50 shells.
One Spanish United Nations peacekeeper was killed in the strike. Spain’s ambassador to the United Nations blamed Israel on Wednesday night for the death of Cpl. Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36.
“It was because of this escalation of violence, and it came from the Israeli side,” Spanish Ambassador Roman Oyarzun Marchesi told reporters.
The UN Security Council condemned the peacekeeper’s death in the strongest terms and offered its deepest sympathies.
Meanwhile the council was continuing its emergency deliberation called by France to discuss ways to defuse tensions between Israel and Lebanon.
The violence raised fears of another all-out conflict between the two countries, who fought a month-long war in 2006, in a region already wracked by fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “maximum calm and restraint,” urging all sides to “act responsibly to prevent any escalation in an already tense regional environment,” a UN statement said.
The US said it stood by Israel following the attack.
“We support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense and continue to urge all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
“Hezbollah continues to incite violence and instability inside Lebanon by attacking Israel and by its presence and fighting inside Syria, which violates Lebanese leaders’ agreed policy of dissociating Lebanon from foreign conflicts,” Psaki said in a statement.
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