From Stephen Farrell in Safed
DEFYING the international clamour for a ceasefire,
“It was decided to continue the offensive with , using pinpointed ground incursions and airstrikes,” a source said after a meeting of Ehud Olmert’s security Cabinet.
its war against Hezbollah because a meeting of 15 foreign ministers in Rome on Wednesday had failed to demand an immediate ceasefire.
But, despite the rising toll and international anger, the “Greater Determination, Less Sensitivity,” proclaimed the front page of the mass-circulation tabloid Ma’ariv.
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman declared:
**collective punishment = war crime**
One opinion poll showed 82per cent of Israelis favoured continuing the fight — only slightly down from 90 per cent a week ago — and 95 per cent considered Israel’s campaign “justified and correct”.
Behind Israel’s determination is a realisation that . Ze’ev Schiff, a military analysts in the left-of-centre Ha’aretz paper, wrote that Hezbollah, “must be destroyed at any price . . . If Hezbollah does not experience defeat in this war, this will against its enemies.”
The immediate cause of Israel’s unease has been the protracted battle to capture Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed there on Wednesday, the heaviest toll of the 17-day offensive.
In an interview with The Times from his hospital bed, a young Israeli paratrooper injured in Bint Jbeil acknowledged that Hezbollah fighters were proving unexpectedly tough adversaries. “They are much better than they used to be. They are good fighters. They are like an army,” conceded Tzfanya Meshulam, who saw one of his commanders killed.
He described how Israeli troops advance from house to house after Israeli artillery and aircraft have first pounded the targets. The old Arab casbah with its narrow lanes was the toughest area to take. There was no running battle. Hezbollah “don’t try to take over areas. They just come out of their underground shelters, shoot and disappear,” he said.
“We don’t really see them until we see the fire coming from somewhere. We were on one rooftop on the outskirts of town and they were shooting from everywhere — you don’t know where it is coming from. When we shoot at them they open up from another direction, like creating a diversion.”
He said that he and colleagues were protecting a heavy machinegun sniper position during a quiet period — “laughing with each other and looking at the town through binoculars” — when a missile hit them. “Suddenly I saw everything black and orange and I couldn’t hear what my colleagues were saying to me.
“I remember everything until this second then everything became slow motion and went black. I thought I was blind. Slowly I got my sight back and I heard my friends shouting.”
He was rushed downstairs for treatment, then taken across the border into Israel under heavy fire.
“Eventually we will win,” he said. “We are more experienced than them. Our weapons are better, and we have a lot more soldiers. They have had a long time to prepare. That is their advantage.”
Up to 600 killed
1,788 seriously injured
5,000 homes damaged
More than 2,500 aerial attacks by Israel
500,000 people displaced within Lebanon
200,000 have left the country
3 airports bombed,
62 bridges destroyed
19 civilians dead
26 seriously injured
374 less badly injured
632 treated for shock
33 Israeli soldiers killed
1,514 rockets and missiles fired at Israel
200,000 Israelis have left their homes in North Israel