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Israeli Troops, Hezbollah Guerrillas Locked in Fierce Fighting

Israel's security cabinet has approved an expansion of ground operations in southern Lebanon. Israeli troops say they have killed at least 20 Hezbollah militants in heavy fighting during the past 48-hours.

Israeli ground troops are carrying out a series of offensive operations inside Lebanon, attacking villages and towns across the region. They are encountering heavy resistance from Hezbollah militants. Described as on and off again clashes, Israeli newspapers report the operations are designed to push Hezbollah militants six to seven kilometers back from the Israeli border.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire on Monday. Israel also temporarily halted most air strikes against southern Lebanon to allow civilians to leave the area and relief aid and medicines to be distributed. But air strikes against Hezbollah targets are continuing.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz says Israel will target any vehicle it determines is carrying weapons for Hezbollah coming from Syria.

Peretz says Israel has no plans to go to war with Syria, but Israel will not allow Hezbollah to re-arm or to re-gain its former military capabilities. Israel has long accused Syria of arming Hezbollah - a charge Syrian officials deny.

Several Israeli politicians say they believe it will take Israeli forces about two weeks to accomplish their stated mission of pushing Hezbollah forces out of South Lebanon.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to Washington Monday after a week-long diplomatic mission, saying she believed the time is right for the U.N. Security Council to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and send international peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

Yigal Palmor a spokesman at Israel's Foreign Ministry says Israel does not believe it will face international pressure to end the fighting before its objectives have been met.

"I do not believe there will be any need for pressure because basically the goals of the international community are our own goals - the support of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the deployment of and international force and the empowerment of the Lebanese government," Palmor says. "All these have been announced as the goals of the international community and they are also ours, because this is what will make it possible for the border to remain secure."

Israeli military authorities say they have destroyed about two-thirds of Hezbollah's long-range missile batteries by air strikes. Hezbollah was believed to have had about 13,000 shorter-range Katyusha rockets when fighting began three-weeks ago. One Israeli cabinet member says, despite Israel's overwhelming military superiority, it is unlikely that all of Hezbollah's missiles will be destroyed in this military campaign.