Israel and Hizbollah continue attacks as deadline nears

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The Independent Online

Less than 24 hours before a UN ceasefire was due to come into force at 8am today, local time, Israel and Hizbollah were still bombing and killing in Lebanon and northern Israel.

Ehud Olmert's cabinet overwhelmingly endorsed the UN resolution, calling for a "full cessation of hostilities" but Tzipi Livni, his Foreign Minister, insisted Israeli troops would stay in southern Lebanon until the Lebanese army, backed by an international force, was ready to move in.

Israeli aircraft struck targets in more than 50 Lebanese towns and villages. Lebanese security sources said the attacks killed at least six in southern Lebanon and six in the Bekaa valley in the east. Israel also fired 20 missiles in a single two-minute barrage on a so-called Hizbollah stronghold in a southern suburb of Beirut.

Despite Israeli media reports that 30,000 troops were extending Israeli control as far as the Litani river, 20 miles north of the international border, Hizbollah launched more than 250 Katyusha rockets into Galilee yesterday. A direct hit killed an 83-year-old in his home. Longer-range missiles slammed into Haifa last night. The army's claim to have destroyed 50 per cent of Hizbollah's short-range rocket capability rang hollow for those under fire.

Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel would abide by Security Council Resolution 1701 but insisted it was within its rights to continue attacking Hizbollah until the truce came into effect.

"Our operation both in the south and against strongholds in the north is legitimate," he said. "We are hitting targets of Hizbollah command and control."

Mr Regev argued that the Israeli ground offensive, launched on Friday night while the Security Council was debating the American-French draft, would help the Lebanese army and the international force to deploy in the south.

"Our operation," he said, "is complementary to the goals of Resolution 1701 because the area from the Litani south to the Blue Line (international border) is supposed to be a Hizbollah-free zone. I think we are making the job easier for them before they arrive."

Israel will hit back if Hizbollah carries out its threat to continue attacking Israeli soldiers who remain on Lebanese soil. "The UN resolution does not talk about an immediate Israeli pullback," Mr Regev said.

"The international community understood that would create a vacuum and allow Hizbollah to fill it. If Hizbollah attacks our soldiers, it will be violating the resolution. If it violates it, we are entitled to respond."

Day 33

* Israel's cabinet approved Friday's UN Security Council ceasefire resolution.

* Israeli aircraft attacked 50 villages, killing at least 15 people. Attacks on Beirut destroyed 11 residential buildings and witnesses said two children were killed. An air raid in the south hit a house with 15 people inside. The number of dead or wounded was not yet known.

* Hizbollah launched its heaviest one-day rocket barrage into Israel since the start of the war, firing 250 rockets, killing a 70-year-old man and wounding at least 91 people.

* Saturday was the deadliest day of the month-old war for the Israeli army, with at least 19 soldiers killed and five missing and feared dead after one of their helicopters was shot down by Hizbollah.