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Israeli Warplanes Hit Hezbollah Targets in Beirut, Bekaa Valley


Israel resumed air strikes on the southern suburbs of Beirut Thursday. Israel's prime minister says his government is close to accomplishing its goals in Lebanon, and a cease-fire could take effect next week. At least 646 Lebanese and 56 Israelis have died so far in the conflict.

Israeli war planes carried out strikes on southern Beirut as well as against targets in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, and on roads near the Syrian border Thursday.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel was close to achieving its objective of carving out a six-to-seven kilometer wide security zone in southern Lebanon. He also said he believed the United Nations will vote on a cease-fire next week.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that she believes Israel and the international community share the same goals in Lebanon.

"The idea is to disarm Hezbollah and to assist the Lebanese government exercise its sovereignty on the entire Lebanon. This is not a simple task but I believe the international community will stick to its goal," she said.

U.S. officials say differences at the U.N. over how to implement a cease-fire and develop an international peacekeeping force are being narrowed. France and some European Union countries have called for an immediate cease-fire, to be followed by a political deal that would include disarming Hezbollah before international peacekeepers are deployed in Lebanon. The United States says no political deal is possible in Lebanon until peacekeepers are sent there first.

Israel says a military inquiry into the bombing of a building in the Lebanese town of Qana that killed at least 28 civilians on Sunday indicates Israel's military made a "mistake." A statement says Israel would not have bombed the building if it had known civilians were present. The inquiry also charges that Hezbollah militants use civilians as human shields during their rocket attacks against Israel, and that more than 150 rockets have been launched at Israel from Qana since fighting began three weeks ago.

The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch says its investigation of the incident found no evidence of rocket launchers anywhere near the building in which the civilians died on Sunday. Human Rights Watch also 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 says he believes Israel's policy towards civilian casualties in Lebanon is much different that 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," he said. "Every time an Israeli civilian is considered by Hezbollah it is considered by them to be a victory."

About 10,000 Israeli ground troops are engaged in heavy fighting with Hezbollah militants inside southern Lebanon. Israeli troops have seized ground near at least ten Lebanese towns and villages in the area. Hezbollah on Thursday continued to launch rockets against northern Israel.

Meanwhile, a large Israeli force of about 50 tanks accompanied by bulldozers pushed about eight kilometers into the Gaza Strip on Thursday taking up position near the Egyptian border. Israeli aircraft also attacked at least four groups of what Israel says were Palestinian gunmen. At least four Palestinians were killed and more than 20 others injured. In a separate incident, an Israeli tank fired on a group of Palestinians, killing a young boy. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed since late June, after Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip to search for an Israeli serviceman captured by Palestinian militants.