Israel stepped up air strikes and artillery fire against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon Thursday, one day after suffering heavy casualties in an ongoing battle for a strategic town in southern Lebanon.
Israeli warplanes struck targets across Lebanon Thursday, including roads, buildings and a Lebanese Army base. On the ground, Israeli army troops backed by heavy artillery fire continued their efforts to take control of the town of Bint Jbail, about four kilometers inside Lebanon.
Hezbollah militants continued rocket attacks on Thursday, hitting towns across northern Israel.
On Wednesday nine Israeli soldiers were killed and at least 25 others were wounded in fighting for Bint Jbail, the heaviest casualties Israel has, so far, suffered in combat.
Israeli military commanders say their campaign will go on for at least several more weeks. Brigadier General Alon Fridman says his forces will take as long as necessary to accomplish their mission.
The Israeli commander says he hopes his troops will be able to significantly curtail Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel in the next few days.
Israel's initial military objective is to establish a one-kilometer security zone inside Lebanese territory.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, says a security zone would stop Hezbollah from conducting cross-border raids, which started the current fighting on July 12.
"What it means is that we will not allow any Hezbollah gunmen or operatives or anybody acting for Hezbollah to approach the border," he said. "It will be made clear to the local inhabitants that there will be about a kilometer-wide stripe along the border where no Hezbollah gunmen will be allowed to enter, and should they try and enter this zone they will be fired at."
Israeli officials say a security zone along the border could serve as a buffer until international peacekeepers are deployed across a wider area in southern Lebanon. The peacekeepers would help the Lebanese Army deploy in the region and prevent the return of Hezbollah militants.
Diplomats from the Middle East, the European Union and the United States agreed during a meeting in Rome Wednesday on the need for an international peacekeeping force, but took no measures to create one.
The meeting ended with participants agreeing on the need for a "lasting, permanent and sustainable cease-fire." Middle Eastern and some European Union members at the conference had called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, but they were opposed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has said Hezbollah's presence in southern Lebanon needs to be curtailed before a cease-fire can be implemented.