Israel rules out a ceasefire as Syria puts troops on alert

Click to follow

Israel plans to "expand and strengthen" its military operations in Lebanon, despite the growing international calls for a ceasefire and its own agreement to a 48-hour halt to bombing after killing 56 civilians, including many children, in Qana.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, indicated in a televised address last night that there would be no ceasefire in the coming days and said the 20-day military offensive in Lebanon would end when the rockets fired by Hizbollah on northern Israel had ceased and the two soldiers seized on 12 July were freed. And last night it was reported that Israel's security cabinet had approved widening the ground offensive in Lebanon.

Defending a military campaign that has been supported so far by an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public, but which has also drawn criticism from military analysts for not realising its main objectives, Mr Olmert insisted the campaign had dealt Hizbollah "a heavy blow" from which it "may never recover".

He added: "We could not let the terror organisation on our border get stronger ... If we had held off, the day would have arrived soon when they would have caused unprecedented damage."

Meanwhile Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told his military to raise its readiness, pledging not to abandon support for Lebanese resistance against Israel. In an annual address on the anniversary of the foundation of the Syria Arab Army, Mr Assad called on the military to "work on more preparedness and raise readiness of all units".

Thousands of Lebanese civilians took advantage of the bombing pause to flee north. But, explaining that the halt was "partial" and did not apply to Hizbollah targets threatening Israeli troops or civilians, the Israeli air force hit a truck close to a Lebanese border post at a crossing into Syria. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it was carrying weapons; Lebanese police officials said it was carrying relief supplies.

Another air strike killed a Lebanese soldier near Tyre. The IDF said it mistakenly thought the vehicle had contained a senior Hizbollah official.

Close to the border near Metulla, the northernmost village in Israel, jutting into Lebanon and surrounded by its hills on three sides, there was artillery and tank fire throughout the day. Israeli tanks, heavy artillery and troops continued to fire at targets in the eastern sector of its northern border, and aircraft also fired into open areas near Taibein support of ground troops, after Hizbollah guerrillas fired a missile at a tank close to the border, wounding three soldiers.

Hizbollah also fired at least two rockets at the town of Kyriat Shimona, but, by nightfall, had otherwise refrained from rocket launches ­ which reached a peak of more than 140 attacks on Sunday.

The IDF emphatically denied a claim by Hizbollah on its Al Manar TV network that it had hit an Israeli ship off the southern Lebanon coast.

Amir Peretz, the Israeli Defence Minister, told a heated session of the Knesset, that "it is forbidden to agree to an immediate ceasefire" . In a session in which four Arab Knesset members were ordered out of the chamber for heckling angrily in protest at the bombing of Qana, Mr Peretz said that agreeing to an immediate ceasefire would mean that "we will find ourselves in a few months in a similar situation".

He added: "We have to finish the operation, and I will do it. The army will expand and deepen its actions against Hizbollah."