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Israel Says Fighting Will Continue Until Peacekeepers Are Sent to Lebanon


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will not stop its offensive in Lebanon, until an international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon. Mr. Olmert's comments come as Hezbollah militants launched more than 80 rockets against northern Israel.

Hezbollah rockets landed all across northern Israel, Wednesday, falling as far south as the city of Beit Shean, south of the Sea of Galilee, along Israel's border with Jordan, 70 kilometers south of the Lebanese border.

The rocket attacks came as thousands of Israeli ground troops are battling Hezbollah militants, inside southern Lebanon.

Israel has also resumed air strikes across Lebanon, after suspending most strikes for 48 hours when more than 50 Lebanese civilians - many of them children - were killed in an Israeli strike against the town of Qana, Sunday.

Prime Minister Olmert said Wednesday that Israel will keep fighting in Lebanon until international peacekeepers arrive there to take up positions previously occupied by Hezbollah militants.

"Israel will stop fighting when the international force will be present in the southern part of Lebanon," he said. "We cannot stop before then because, if there is no presence of a very effective robust military international force, Hezbollah will be there and we will have achieved nothing. Therefore this is the most important and significant line from where we can think of a cease-fire."

Israeli leaders say they think a ceasefire can be reached within weeks. However, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, Tuesday, she believes a ceasefire could be reached within days. American officials say they expect the U.N. Security Council to take action this week on an international peacekeeping force.

European Union Foreign ministers have pledged to support a peacekeeping force by supplying troops. They also called for an immediate end to hostilities.

Meanwhile, Israeli commandoes returned to their bases, early Wednesday, following a raid on the eastern Lebanese city, Baalbek, near the Syrian border. Baalbek is about 100 kilometers north of the Litani River, which Israel describes as the northern boundary in its current campaign to drive Hezbollah militants out of southern Lebanon. Israel says several Hezbollah militants were captured in the raid, in which Israeli forces also destroyed an Iranian-built hospital as well as several bridges near the historic city.

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