Seoul, South Korea: Tension wracked the Korean Peninsula as the partitioned countries of North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire on Tuesday with the North firing dozens of shells on a South Korean island situated near the countries' disputed maritime border.
According to South Korean military officials two South Korean soldiers were killed, 15 were wounded and three civilians were injured.
South Korean artillery units returned fire even as the country put its military into ''crisis status.'' Fighter aircraft were put on stand-by, defence ministry officials said.
Artillery fire from the North hit South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island and also splashed into the Yellow Sea. News reports said dozens of houses were on fire, and TV footage showed large plumes of black smoke spiralling from the island.
While Russia and China have expressed concern the United States of America has promised to stand by its threatened ally, South Korea.
The official North Korean news agency held the South responsible saying it had started the fight when it ''recklessly fired into our sea area.''
International observers said the clash appeared to be the most serious in recent years.