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Hezbollah Rockets Kill 8 Israelis; Israel Steps Up Airstrikes in Lebanon

A barrage of more than 100 rockets fired by Hezbollah militants has killed at least eight Israelis. Military authorities say they plan to expand what they intend to be a security zone in Lebanon to at least 15 kilometers and perhaps further. A new report from the U.S. based Human Rights Watch says Israeli air strikes have indiscriminately struck Lebanese civilians.

The deaths from the Hezbollah rockets came in and around the cities of Acre and Maalot, which were struck by more than 100 rockets. At least 27 Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah rockets since fighting began more than three weeks ago.

Hezbollah rockets continue to strike northern Israel, despite the presence of about 10,000 Israeli ground troops inside Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel is close to achieving its objective of carving out a security zone along the Lebanese border. Israeli military authorities say they plan to expand the security zone to about 15 kilometers inside Lebanon, saying they already control about 20 Lebanese villages located six-to-seven kilometers inside the country.

A military spokesman says expanding Israel's presence in Lebanon will require about 2,000 more troops. Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz says his forces will stay in Lebanon as long as necessary.

"We are going to provide our government the flexibility to select its decision, either to stay or withdraw," he said.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper, Prime Minister Olmert said he believed the United Nations will approve a cease-fire next week.

Mr. Olmert's optimism was echoed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The United States, the United Kingdom, France and others have been working very hard to get agreement on a United Nations resolution," he said. "I am now hopeful we will have such a resolution down very shortly and agreed within the next few days. The purpose of that will be to bring about an immediate ceasefire and then put in place the conditions for the international force to come in support of the Lebanese government so that we get the underlying issue and problems dealt with."

Differences between the United States and France over the timing of a cease-fire, and the introduction of international peacekeepers to Lebanon, has led to a postponement of discussions on the issue at the United Nations.

Israel's military has released the results of an investigation that says their air-strike against the Lebanese town of Qana on Sunday was a mistake. The New York-based organization, Human Rights Watch says during its current military campaign in Lebanon, Israel has failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Speaking to journalists, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he believes Israel's policy towards civilian casualties in Lebanon is much different than that of Hezbollah's.

"Every time a civilian is killed by an Israeli we consider it a failure and we regret it very much because it has never been our strategy and we do not want to achieve that," said Mr. Olmert. "Every time an Israeli civilian is killed, it is considered by Hezbollah to be a victory."

Israel has also stepped up air strikes in Lebanon, hitting targets in southern Beirut as well as a number of sites in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, and on roads near the Syrian border.

Israel dropped leaflets in Beirut warning residents of three Shiite neighborhoods to leave - a sign the neighborhoods could be hit by air strikes.