Israeli warplanes and artillery have stepped up their pounding of southern Lebanon after ministers decided against a land invasion. Army chiefs said that Hizbollah guerrillas had suffered huge damage and that a further 15,000 reservists are to be called up. Defence Minister Amir Peretz put Hizbollah on notice that southern Lebanon was to be purged. “Hezbollah will not be allowed to become what it was before,” he said.
“We are at war. We will not allow the Hizbollah flag to be raised again at our northern border. We aim to clear them out of the area so that they can never come back.”
The two week Israeli offensive in Lebanon has so far claimed up to 600 lives, according to officials in Beirut. The brunt of the fighting has taken place in the southern zone bordering Israel and bodies have been left lying in the streets in some isolated villages. The fighting has taken its toll of Israeli lives too. With Hizbollah rockets continuing to land in northern Israel, at least 51 Israelis, including 18 civilians, have died in the conflict.
The Israeli decision against an expansion of the ground war came a day after nine of its soldiers were killed in Lebanon, the army’s heaviest one day loss since the start of the conflict. The army does not want to get bogged down in a land war and Israeli public opinion, while firmly behind the government for the moment, is acutely sensitive to losses and could be affected if they were to mount.