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Israel Says Offensive Will Continue, Not Expand in Lebanon


Israel's top security ministers have decided not to expand the ongoing ground offensive in Lebanon. But the decision does not mean the conflict is winding down.

With the fighting two weeks in, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called together his security cabinet. There was widespread speculation Israel would step up its campaign against Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon.

In the end, the decision was to continue as is. But the ministers decided to call up thousands of additional reservists to boost the military's capabilities.

Israeli troops and tanks, backed by artillery, are operating across the Lebanese border, trying to clear out militants and establish control over a small strip of land that the Israelis hope to turn into a safe buffer zone.

On Wednesday, the military suffered its heaviest casualties to date, with nine soldiers killed and at least 25 wounded in operations around Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold four kilometers inside Lebanon.

Red Cross workers in Lebanon also reported a rising casualty toll. They said bodies are strewn in the streets of some isolated villages in the south and they say many civilians remain trapped there by the fighting.

At the same time, Israeli warplanes are continuing their bombing runs across southern Lebanon. These kinds of operations are expected to continue.

Environment Minister Gideon Ezra told Israel radio there is no choice but to go on.

Ezra said the price may be high, but there is no way to stop now, not before finishing the job and ensuring that Hezbollah no longer poses a threat to Israel.

Since the fighting began, Hezbollah has fired more than 1,400 rockets into northern Israel. More Katyushas struck the area on Thursday.

Most European countries and Arab nations want an immediate end to the fighting, but the United States says the timing for a cease-fire must be right to ensure a truce is sustainable and will lead to broader peace.

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