Israel intends to carve 'security zone'
By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press WriterTue Jul 25, 3:22 PM ET
Israel will carve out a in south Lebanon until an international force is deployed there or Hezbollah and its rocket launchers are pushed back from the Israeli border, Israel's defense minister said Tuesday.
Israel maintained such a zone during its of Lebanon, and Defense Minister became the first Israeli leader to raise the idea of restoring a no-go area. He did not say whether Israeli troops would patrol south Lebanon or keep guerrillas out with airstrikes and artillery fire.
Peretz spoke on the 14th day of Israel's military offensive, with no sign that the deadly bombardment it had slowed Hezbollah's rocket attacks. More than 80 rockets hit Israel on Tuesday, killing a 15-year-old girl in an Arab village and wounding two dozen other people.
Israeli leaders vowed to defeat Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told immigrants from France that Israel has "the stamina for a long struggle." His vice premier, Shimon Peres, told parliament there is "no alternative to victory" over Hezbollah, and that the guerrillas are marked for defeat.
But Israeli army commanders presented a more limited agenda.
They said Israeli ground troops, who encircled the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint Jbail on Tuesday, would not push deep into Lebanon. They said the objective is to kill as many Hezbollah fighters as possible and push others away from the border.
"We are very much dealing with the villages and towns close to the border, to clear some of the (Hezbollah) infrastructure and posts close to the border," Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan said. "Our aim is not to occupy the territory."
Peretz said Israel would maintain a security zone until either a multinational force "with enforcement capability" is deployed on the border, or Hezbollah is pushed back in a cease-fire agreement that also cuts off the supply of its weapons.
He hinted that Israel might enforce the no-go zone from a distance, saying that "we will continue to control (Hezbollah) with our fire toward anyone who will get close to the defined security zone."
During that time, Israeli troops patrolled the border area in south Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from attacking northern Israel. Israel's 2000 pullout from Lebanon was prompted, in large part, by public discontent over the casualty toll among soldiers in the security zone.
Nehushtan said Israeli forces have killed dozens of Hezbollah fighters and destroyed about 100 to 150 rocket launchers in the past two weeks. He said he did not know how many of Hezbollah's 12,000 rockets had been destroyed, but said the army was eroding the guerrillas' powers of attack.
The Israeli military also came under some criticism at home, with commentators citing a lack of intelligence about Hezbollah positions and arsenals. "Too many surprises awaited our forces," commentator Alex Fishman wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
Col. Chen Livni, an Israeli commander in south Lebanon, brushed aside the criticism. "You can't expect zero mistakes at a time of war," he told Israel Army Radio.
Tuesday marked a month since the start of what is now a two-front war against Islamic militants. On June 25, an Israeli soldier was captured by Hamas militants in Gaza, prompting an Israeli air and ground offensive there. Two weeks later, Hezbollah attacked Israeli troops in northern Israel, taking two soldiers captive. Israel demands the release of the soldiers as part of any cease-fire deal.
International pressure is building for a truce.
However, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she wouldn't push for a cease-fire at any price. A truce deal would have to last, Rice said, suggesting she was siding with Israel's demands that Hezbollah be neutralized as part of any deal.
Peres appealed to the Lebanese people to sideline Hezbollah, saying it was a cancer in their midst. "You proved that you could throw the Syrians out of the country, and you can rid your country of the weapons of Hezbollah," Peres said of the Lebanese.
"This could be your great opportunity," Peres said. "You have at your service an army of 80,000 troops. Where are they?"