Israel to expand ground operation in Lebanon

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 01-Aug-06 | Source: International Herald Tribune

An Israeli tank crosses into southern Lebanon from northern Israel Tuesday, August 1, 2006.
JERUSALEM Israeli troops will move deeper into southern Lebanon, up to the Litani River, and hold on to the territory for several weeks, until a multinational force is deployed there, senior Israeli officials and media reports said Tuesday.

The Litani River is about 30 kilometers north of the Israel-Lebanon border.

In fighting on Tuesday, Israeli warplanes launched three air raids on targets along the Litani River, Lebanon's official news agency reported. They were accompanied by artillery shelling against villages in the central region of south Lebanon.

Also on Tuesday, Israeli soldiers were exchanging heavy fire with Hezbollah fighters in the southern Lebanese village of Ayta ash Shab, the army said.

Late Monday, Israel's security cabinet decided to expand Israel's ground offensive in south Lebanon.

Israel Radio, Israel Army Radio and a senior Israeli government official said ground forces would reach the Litani River. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss decisions of closed-door government meetings with reporters.

A political commentator, Emanuel Rosen, outlined the security cabinet's decision on Army Radio, saying troops would in some cases even go beyond the Litani. Justice Minister Haim Ramon, speaking on the same program, said Rosen "knows what he is talking about," but refused to refer directly to the Cabinet decisions.

Ephraim Sneh, a senior Labor Party lawmaker, also indirectly confirmed the planned push up to the Litani. Asked by Israel Radio how long troops would hold on to that territory, up to the Litani, Sneh said: "We are not talking about days we are talking about longer, but not about months."

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a senior cabinet minister, said Israel wants to establish a Hezbollah-free zone in southern Lebanon.

"This is the same area where we want a multinational force to be deployed," Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio. He said he expected the ground offensive to take "between 10 days to two weeks."

Another senior government official said Israel's security cabinet did not set a territorial limit for the offensive when it approved expanding the ground operation. The official did not deny reports that troops would reach the Litani.