Israel to Widen Ground Offensive in Lebanon

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Israel approved plans to widen its ground offensive against Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon early Tuesday. The country's Security Cabinet also rejected calls for a cease-fire until an international peacekeeping force able to intervene with force, preferably headed by NATO, was in place.

A participant, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said Israel's airstrikes in Lebanon would resume "in full force" after the 48-hour suspension expires in another day.

Thousands of army reserves have been called up in recent days in advance of the decision, which is expected to lead to sending more troops into the border area. Israeli leaders have said they want to carve out a zone about 1 mile wide that would be free of Hezbollah emplacements.

Meanwile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday the offensive in southern Lebanon would continue "in the air, at sea and on land."

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Olmert addressed a group of Israeli mayors after Israeli planes carried out two "protective" airstrikes Monday on Hezbollah targets just hours after declaring the respite in air attacks on southern Lebanon.

"The fighting will continue," Olmert said. "There will be no cease-fire, and there will not be any cease-fire in the coming days."

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Olmert said that the fighting in southern Lebanon would end only with the return of the two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah guerrillas three weeks ago.

Until then, the prime minister said Israel would "destroy the infrastructure of terror there," pledging to go after the arms supply routes Hezbollah uses along the Lebanese-Syrian border. "This is an almost one-time opportunity to change the rules of the game in Lebanon," he said.

Monday's airstrikes hit targets in Tyre and near the town of Taibeh where three Israeli soldiers were injured after Hezbollah guerrillas attacked a tank, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) told FOX News.

Later Monday, Hezbollah claimed successful missile strikes upon an Israeli warship in the Mediterranean Sea. The IDF denied the attack took place and FOX News reporters in Tyre, Lebanon, did not witness any explosions off the coast.

The attack on Tyre hit a car carrying Lebanese Army troops, killing one. The IDF expressed regret over the incident, but said it believed a Hezbollah official was inside the vehicle. Lebanese officials said the car was hit by a rocket from a pilotless drone aircraft.

Officials in Jerusalem and Washington told FOX News Monday that the IDF will expand ground operations in Lebanon over the next 48 hours and hope to conclude the war effort "by the end of next week."

The airstrikes Monday broke a brief respite in 20 days of fighting, called so officials could investigate a Sunday airstrike on Qana, Lebanon, which killed at least 56 people, including 34 children. The incident prompted rioting in Beirut and global criticism of Israel.

Olmert again expressed regret Monday for the civilian deaths in that airstrike. "I deeply regret the civilian adults and children that were killed in Qana," he said. "We had no intention of hurting them; we did not want their deaths."

Television footage from Taibeh showed two Israeli tanks side by side, with flames suddenly covering one of them. Soldiers soon emerged from one tank and did not appear to be badly hurt.

Despite the break in air attacks, Israeli artillery continued ground offensives in Lebanon, as troops tried to secure a mile-wide Hezbollah-free zone along the northern border.

Before the fighting resumed, pickup trucks and cars loaded with people streamed north as thousands of civilians trapped in south Lebanon's war zone for three weeks took advantage of the brief lull to escape.

Israel had said, in announcing the halt to airstrikes earlier Monday, that it would suspend that pledge to end airstrikes for 48-hours depending on "operational developments" in Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel plans to "expand and strengthen" its attack on Hezbollah, diminishing hopes that the 48-hour halt in air strikes could be turned into a longer term cease-fire.

President Hosni Mubarak, whose Arab country was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, warned that the entire Middle East peace could collapse because of Israel's fighting in Lebanon.

"Egypt, which triggered the peace process, warns of the consequences of its collapse," Mubarak said in a nationwide televised statement. "The Israeli aggression undermines the opportunities to continue it and its success."

Fighting was heavy in the northeast corner of south Lebanon around Taibeh and other border villages. Constant Israeli artillery blasts — not covered under the air halt — shook the hills.

Hezbollah guerrillas in the area fired a volley of rockets at the nearby Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, their first since Israel's suspension began. No casualties were reported.

In many border areas, Israeli pilotless aircraft also were heard buzzing — though it was not clear whether they were over Lebanese territory.

Still, the suspension of the air campaign brought relative quiet to much of southern Lebanon.

Israel called the 48-hour halt under U.S. pressure amid worldwide outrage over the Qana strike. It was the deadliest single strike in the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon, aimed at reining in the Hezbollah guerrillas who sparked the conflict July 12 by snatching two Israeli soldiers. Some 519 people have been confirmed killed by Lebanon's Health Ministry since the fighting began.

The pause meant the first relative relief for thousands of Lebanese who have been hiding in their homes, in schools or hospitals in the dozens of villages that dot the mountainous south. While huge numbers had fled already, those who remained were mostly the old, the sick and those too afraid of intense Israeli bombardment on the roads to risk the drive.

Early Monday, hours after Israel called the pause, few southerners took to the roads, likely wary over whether the news was true. But by early afternoon, the roads from villages into the port city of Tyre, then from Tyre heading north along the coast were packed.

The stunning bloodshed in Qana increased international pressure on Washington to back an immediate end to the fighting and prompted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cut short her Mideast mission to return home Monday.

In a nationally televised speech before leaving Israel, Rice said she would seek international consensus for a cease-fire and a "lasting settlement" in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel through a U.N. Security Council resolution this week.

"I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free of attack from terrorist groups in Lebanon," Rice said.

But Peretz made clear in a speech to parliament that Israel would not agree to an immediate cease-fire and had plans to expand its operation in Lebanon.

"It's forbidden to agree to an immediate cease-fire," Peretz told parliament, as several Arab legislators heckled him and demanded an immediate cessation. "Israel will expand and strengthen its activities against the Hezbollah."

Olmert told Rice over the weekend that Israel would need 10 to 14 more days to finish its offensive, and Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio on Monday that he did not think the fighting was yet over.

"I'm convinced that we won't finish this war until it's clear that Hezbollah has no more abilities to attack Israel from south Lebanon. This is what we are striving for," Ramon said.

Complete coverage of the Mideast conflict available in's Mideast Center.'s Sara Bonisteel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.