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Israeli Prime Minister Says Israel Will Continue Attacks Against Hezbollah Militants


Israel's prime minister says Israel will continue to attack Lebanon until two Israeli prisoners are freed and Hezbollah militants leave the area along Israel's northern border. Israel is continuing air strikes against targets in Lebanon, while Hezbollah militants continue to fire rockets into Israel.

Speaking in Israel's Knesset, or parliament, Ehud Olmert vowed to root out what he described as a terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon, and in the Palestinian territories, that he says is backed by Iran and Syria.

Israel's prime minister says Israel will search out and attack the terrorist infrastructure of both Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. He accused the governments of Syria and Iran of backing both groups. Mr. Olmert says Israelis will no longer live under the threat of rocket attacks from Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, describing Israel's actions as "basic self-defense."

The Israeli prime minister's comments came on a day when Israel carried out scores of strikes against targets in Lebanon, focusing on the southern suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah militants are based. Meanwhile, air raid sirens sounded across northern Israel as Hezbollah retaliated with rocket attacks, targeting Israel's third largest city, Haifa, which was struck repeatedly on Monday.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen says Israel's attacks in Lebanon are aimed at eliminating the Hezbollah rocket threat.

"We are trying to pinpoint the different rocket fire and target them in Lebanon," she said. "There is no question that they (Hezbollah) have an advantage, being able to fire them. Israel will continue to attack any place we know that there are rockets or that rockets have been fired."

Israel on Monday also brushed aside a proposal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to send an international peacekeeping force to Lebanon.

Spokeswoman Miri Eisen says Israel welcomes any plan to implement U.N. resolution 1559 on Lebanon, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese military along the border and for the disarming of militant groups such as Hezbollah. But she says Israel does not believe international peacekeepers working under the auspices of the United Nations would help end the crisis.

"When it comes to the United Nations forces, let me point out that there has been a dissonance between the declared United Nations policy when it comes to Security Council resolution 1559 and the actions of United Nations forces in Lebanon who have been there since 1978," she noted.

Leaders of the world's largest industrialized nations, meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, have blamed the violence on Hezbollah and demanded that the militant group release the two Israeli soldiers it is holding. They also called for Israel to exercise restraint.

Speaking after talks in Syria, Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said he believed a cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners could defuse the crisis. Following talks in Beirut, senior U.N. envoy Vijay Nambiar traveled to Israel, saying he saw promising first efforts toward ending the crisis.

The Associated Press, quoting unnamed Israeli officials, reported Monday that Israel would agree to a ceasefire if Hezbollah militants pulled back 30 kilometers from Israel's border, and released the two Israeli soldiers. Israeli officials have not commented on the report.

Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier was killed and six others wounded in the West Bank city of Nablus, in an ambush by Palestinian militants. The attack followed an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip that destroyed the headquarters building of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian foreign ministry in Gaza City.