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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Olmert: Israel Will Not Stop Offensive

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that he was determined to pursue Israel's offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas as he met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss the war in Lebanon.

Also Tuesday, Colonel Chen Livni, a senior Israeli commander said ground troops hunting Hezbollah guerrillas would not push deeper into Lebanon and would instead encircle Lebanese towns and villages near the border with Israel, in the most detailed outline yet of the objectives of Israel's military offensive.

Rice told Lebanese leaders in bomb-battered Beirut on Monday that any cease-fire had to involve Hezbollah's withdrawal from Israel's border and deployment of an international force in the frontier region, Lebanese politicians said.

She 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," Rice said alongside Olmert in remarks before they held talks.

"It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those who do not want a new Middle East that we will prevail."

Despite mounting international concern at civilian casualties in Lebanon, Olmert said Israel had to press on with its two-week old offensive.

Life in northern Israel, where more than 1 million people live, had virtually stopped because of Hezbollah rocket attacks, he added.

"We are using the basic elementary right of self-defense," Olmert said.

On the battlefield, Israeli troops and tanks fought fierce clashes with Hezbollah inside the guerrilla stronghold of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon. The army said while Israeli forces had entered, they had yet to take complete control of the town.

An Israeli air strike killed a family of seven, Lebanese security sources said. Another killed four civilians near the southern port city of Tyre, medics said.

Hezbollah rockets slammed into the northern Israeli city of Haifa, wounding at least seven people.

A total of 408 people in Lebanon and 41 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, ignited by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 in a cross-border raid.

Rice arrived in Jerusalem after her trip to Beirut and will attend an international conference on the crisis in Rome on Wednesday.

Rice has made clear she is not seeking a quick cease-fire and that any solution should address the root causes of the conflict -- for which Washington and Israel blame Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria.

Rice and Olmert were expected to discuss what could be done to ease the suffering for civilians in Lebanon, which estimates almost one-fifth of its population has been displaced by the Israeli bombing. Most of the dead are civilians.

Such issues will be discussed in detail at the conference Wednesday, where Lebanon says it will call for a cease-fire.

Israel's Lebanon offensive has coincided with a push into the Gaza Strip to recover a soldier captured by Palestinian militants on June 25 and halt rocket fire. Israeli forces have killed at least 121 Palestinians in the month since then.

(Reuters, AP)