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Israel Approves Expansion of Lebanon Campaign


Israeli airstrikes killed at least seven people in Lebanon Wednesday, as Israel's security cabinet approved an expansion of its military campaign targeting Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters. A top U.S. envoy visited the Lebanese capital Wednesday, as international efforts to end the conflict continue.

Lebanese officials say the casualties resulted from Israeli airstrikes in the eastern Bekaa Valley and in a Palestinian refugee camp near the southern port city of Sidon.

Late in the afternoon, a series of large explosions rocked Beirut's southern suburbs, and dark gray cloud of smoke billowed up over a Shi'ite neighborhood known to be Hezbollah stronghold.

As the Israeli offensive continued Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressed support for a Lebanese government plan to deploy 15,000 soldiers in south Lebanon once a cease-fire is reached and Israel pulls out its forces.

Israel has expressed skepticism about the offer, saying it wants an international force to move into Southern Lebanon before it will withdraw its troops from the area. Israel has also demanded the Lebanese government disarm Hezbollah as part of a long-term solution that will end border instability and rocket attacks.

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch made a surprise visit to Beirut, where he met with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. After the meeting, Siniora told reporters there has been no progress on reaching a cease-fire.

The U.S. envoy also met with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah, and with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

The Lebanese foreign minister said efforts were still continuing to reach a solution agreeable to the Lebanese. The U.S. emissary did not talk to reporters.

Lebanon, with support from other Arab nations, says any U.N. resolution to end the fighting, must also call for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and the deployment of the Lebanese army to the south.

In other developments, aid agencies say they are having great difficulty reaching some of the hardest hit areas of southern Lebanon. Many truck drivers are refusing to deliver aid for fear of being targeted by Israel, which has warned that it would strike any vehicle traveling south of the Litani River, an area that includes the port city of Tyre.