Olmert vows to press Hizbollah war�|�News One�|�Reuters.com
Olmert vows to press Hizbollah war
Tue Jul 25, 2006 11:23 AM ET
By Sue Pleming
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel agreed on Tuesday to allow aid airlifts to Lebanon but said it was determined to pursue a war against Hizbollah that key ally the despite a heavy civilian death toll.
After meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said both agreed that disarming Hizbollah and deploying an international force in its place in southern Lebanon were key to resolving the two-week-old crisis.
Israel said it would hold a until that force arrived.
The war will take center stage at an international conference in Rome on Wednesday where Arab and some European nations are expected to call for an immediate ceasefire over Washington's objections. Rice later flew to Italy.
On the battlefield, Israeli troops and tanks fought Hizbollah inside the guerrilla stronghold town of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon. Israel said it
**or civilians, after all, when you're dead they can call you whatever they want**
Israeli warplanes bombarded Hizbollah's Beirut stronghold and launched 100 strikes across south Lebanon. One attack killed a family of seven, Lebanese security sources said.
A total of in a conflict that erupted after Hizbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said he feared Israel's offensive could ignite a wider war in the Middle East.
But Rice, who visited bomb-battered Beirut on Monday, said it was time for a "new Middle East".
"A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and democracy in the region," she said.
AIRLIFTS TO BEIRUT
Amid mounting international concern at civilian casualties and the plight of people displaced in Lebanon, Olmert said Israel would allow aid airlifts to reach the country.
Israel has imposed an air and sea blockade and bombed Beirut airport runways.
Lebanon says Israel's bombardment has displaced a fifth of its population.
"The prime minister said Israel will allow, with advance coordination, for planes carrying humanitarian aid to land at Beirut airport," Olmert's office said.
United Nations humanitarian agencies said they were still largely blocked from bringing relief supplies into Lebanon and from getting injured and very sick people to hospitals.
Olmert said Israel had to press on with its offensive with Hizbollah rockets raining on northern Israel.
Rice has made clear she was not seeking a quick ceasefire and that any solution should address the root causes of the conflict -- for which Washington and Israel blame Hizbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the main objective of the Rome meeting would be to secure a ceasefire, despite Washington and Israel's belief it can only lay the groundwork.
The heaviest ground battles have been taking place around Bint Jbeil, 4 km (2.5 miles) inside Lebanon.
The army said while Israeli forces had entered Bint Jbeil, they had yet to take complete control of the town.
Israeli forces seized another stronghold closer to the border, the village of Maroun al-Ras, last week.
But ground raids and air strikes have failed to stop Hizbollah firing around 1,200 rockets into northern Israeli towns and cities, where they have killed 18 civilians so far.
Israel says it would accept an international force to dislodge Hizbollah guerrillas from the border.
It would hold a "security strip" there until the force deployed, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told reporters.
Israel believed a force of up to 20,000 peacekeepers was needed and that it could be deployed within two weeks of approval by Western powers, senior Israeli officials said.
The estimate would be nearly double the size being discussed by European powers.
One of the key sticking points for a ceasefire in Lebanon is the sequence of events for a deal.
Many Lebanese politicians want a ceasefire first. Israel wants Hizbollah to leave the border area immediately and free the captured soldiers without conditions.
Israel's Lebanon offensive has coincided with its push into the Gaza Strip to try to recover a soldier captured on June 25 by Palestinian militants and halt rocket fire. Israeli forces have killed at least 121 Palestinians in the month since then.
(Additional reporting by bureau in Beirut, Rome, Riyadh and Geneva)