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Olmert Rejects Calls for Cease-Fire in Lebanon

In his speech in Tel Aviv, Olmert defended Israel's decision to launch the cross-border offensive nearly three weeks ago in response to Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of three others in a raid into Israel. The Shiite militia said its aim was to force Israel to release Hezbollah militants it was holding.

"We decided that there was no other way than to react robustly because we had no alternative," Olmert said. "It was absolutely out of the question to allow a terrorist organization north of our border to continue reinforcing. We couldn't allow them to build up more rockets, more missiles, stockpiling all sorts of deadly weapons."

He said restraint would have led to future rocket and missile attacks, resulting in "irreparable damage."

Olmert reminded Israelis that he had predicted the campaign would not be easy. "We knew at the time . . . that it would be difficult and even painful, and sometimes very painful," he said. "We said that we would have to demonstrate a great deal of patience, a great deal of resolution to order to get to all the places where the terrorists were hiding and to hit their launching sites and that we would pay the dearest price of all -- human life."

Before boarding a plane to return to Washington, Rice expressed confidence in achieving a Security Council cease-fire resolution this week. Her comments came a day after an Israeli airstrike in the Lebanese town of Qana killed 57 civilians, most of them children.

The extensive loss of life in Qana, which a shaken Rice called "tragic," prompted the cancellation of her planned trip to Beirut and sparked large anti-American protests in Lebanon. At an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered some of his harshest criticism to date of the Israeli offensive.

But the attack also led the Israeli government to agree to the limited pause in airstrikes, and to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for civilians to leave Lebanon's ravaged south.

On Monday, however, the Israeli military reported a new ground incursion into Lebanon, saying troops had been sent into the Aita al-Shaab area to fight Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israeli warplanes also bombed targets in south Lebanon, and two villages were reported hit by Israeli artillery shells. One Lebanese soldier was killed and three others were wounded when an airstrike destroyed their vehicle, Reuters reported.

For its part, Hezbollah fired two shells at the Israel border town of Kiryat Shmona Monday. No injuries were reported.

Hezbollah also claimed to have rocketed an Israeli warship off the coast of the Lebanese city of Tyre. Israel denied that any of its ships were hit.

Israeli officials said they regretted the Qana attack, which was the bloodiest in three weeks of fighting, but blamed Hezbollah militants for firing rockets from civilian areas.

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