Israelis Authorize Expansion Of Combat

By Molly Moore and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 10, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 9 -- On the deadliest day of fighting yet for Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, the Israeli security cabinet Wednesday authorized the military to expand ground combat operations to try to root out Hezbollah guerrillas who continued to mount fierce resistance.

The cabinet debated military options during an acrimonious six-hour meeting that occasionally dissolved into shouting matches among members torn between the public's growing anger over the military's failure to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks and concerns that enlarging an already treacherous battlefield will result in high numbers of combat casualties, according to participants.

Wednesday's toll drove home those fears -- 15 soldiers were killed and 25 wounded in Israel's worst day of battlefield deaths since the conflict began, according to Israeli military officials.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, in a defiant televised address Wednesday night, warned that expanded Israeli military operations in Lebanon would be repelled by the same fierce resistance that has prevented Israeli troops from controlling the terrain in the last 29 days of warfare.

"You can invade, you can land by air, by sea and take any hill, we will expel you with force and transform our land in the south to a graveyard for Zionist invaders," Nasrallah said. "We will kill your officers and soldiers and inflict a calamity on you in the battlefield."

Nasrallah also called on the Arab residents of Haifa to evacuate their neighborhoods. "To the Arabs of Haifa, a special message," he said. "I plead with you to leave that city."

Hezbollah lobbed more than 180 rockets across northern Israel Wednesday, but they caused no serious injuries.

Israeli jets pummeled an often-hit bridge at Akkar in northern Lebanon and hit other bridges and roads in the Bekaa Valley near the village of Mashghara. Local residents told Lebanon's Future Television that seven people from one family were killed in the raid. Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked roads and bridges in the eastern Lebanese valley, seeking to cut off the transport of Hezbollah munitions, funds and rockets from Syria.

Another air attack shook southern Beirut in the late afternoon, part of Israel's almost daily pounding of the Dahiya area where Hezbollah's leaders and followers were concentrated. When the blast reverberated across the city, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, C. David Welch, was conferring with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other Lebanese officials on cease-fire negotiations underway at the United Nations. It was his second visit to Beirut in a week, as the Bush administration tries to narrow differences between Lebanon and Israel. But diplomatic efforts to ease the fighting continued to flounder.

Israeli planes dropped leaflets on the Dahiya suburbs overnight, blaming Nasrallah for the air raids that have hit the area almost daily for four weeks. "Nasrallah is playing with fire and Beirut is burning," said the leaflets, attributed to "the State of Israel."

Police in Lebanon said the death count from Monday evening's Israeli attack on the southern Beirut suburb of Al Shiyah had risen to 47 as bodies continued to be pulled out of the rubble, making it the single deadliest airstrike since the conflict began July 12.

Although the Israeli cabinet set no schedule for the escalation in ground combat because of ongoing international diplomacy, a buildup in Israeli ground forces was evident in the string of small Israeli towns that line the Lebanese border. In Zarit, dozens of tanks and artillery pieces stretched along a half-mile access road into the town. A military official said more than 1,000 soldiers were moving into Lebanon to augment the 10,000 troops already operating there. The official said as many as 5,000 more Israeli troops would soon join the operation.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company