Israeli army calls up reserves as ground invasion looms

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The Independent Online

The Israeli army today said it had called up more reserve troops to augment its current forces in northern Israel, widening speculation that a major ground offensive against Lebanon has moved beyond the planning stage.

The army said the call-up was issued in the morning and that several hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers were being told gather at specific meeting points for deployment northward.

The exact numbers of troops was not disclosed, but a military source said the numbers of people would likely be slightly less than brigade-strength.

The size of a brigade varies from army to army, but typically ranges from 1,500 to 3,500 troops.

The decision came amid Israeli efforts to warn residents of an approximately 20-mile wide area of southern Lebanon to evacuate immediately.

Top Israeli officials met last night to decide how big a force to send in, according to senior military officials.

They said Israel would not stop its offensive until Hezbollah was forced behind the Litani River, 20 miles north of the border - creating a new buffer zone in a region that saw 18 years of Israeli presence since 1982.

In the past 24 hours, at least have a dozen Israeli troops have been killed in pitched battles with Hezbollah militants and an Israeli helicopter pilot was killed when two Apache attack helicopters collided.