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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Vows to Strengthen Offensive

JERUSALEM -- Israel will "expand and strengthen" its attack on Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, the Israeli defense minister said Monday, diminishing hopes that a 48-hour halt in airstrikes could be turned into a longer term cease-fire.

The border with Lebanon was quiet Monday, a half-day into Israel's cessation of airstrikes, which was called at 2 a.m. after nearly 60 civilians were killed in an Israeli bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday -- an attack that led to demands around the world for an immediate cease-fire.

As a Hezbollah leader indicated that the guerrilla group also might be willing to put its attacks on hold, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the United Nations Security Council to arrange for a cease-fire agreement by week's end that would include the formation of an international force to help Lebanese forces control southern Lebanon. But Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz made clear in a speech to the parliament that Israel would not agree to an immediate cease-fire and had plans to expand its operation in Lebanon. "It's forbidden to agree to an immediate cease-fire," Peretz said. "Israel will expand and strengthen its activities against Hezbollah."

Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah suggested that the guerrilla group might follow suit and suspend its attacks on Israel in response to Israel's cessation of airstrikes. "Shelling [Israeli] settlements is a Lebanese reaction to shelling Lebanese civilians," he said. "When Israel stops its aggression on the south, on Lebanon, on civilians ... naturally this reaction could stop. But has Israel stopped its aggression?"

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Rice over the weekend that Israel would need 10 to 14 more days to finish its offensive, and Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio on Monday that he did not think the fighting was over yet. "I'm convinced that we won't finish this war until it's clear that Hezbollah has no more abilities to attack Israel from south Lebanon. This is what we are striving for," Ramon said.

The stunning bloodshed in Qana increased international pressure on Washington to back an immediate end to the fighting and prompted Rice to cut short her Middle East mission to return home Monday. In a nationally televised speech before leaving Israel, Rice said she would seek international consensus for a cease-fire and a "lasting settlement" in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel through a UN Security Council resolution this week. "I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free of attack from terrorist groups in Lebanon," Rice said.

At the United Nations, the Security Council approved a statement expressing "extreme shock and distress" at the bloodshed and calling for an end to violence, stopping short of a demand for an immediate cease-fire.

In a jab at the United States, UN chief Kofi Annan told the council in unusually frank terms that he was "deeply dismayed" his previous calls for a halt were ignored. "Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control," he said.

n Russia on Monday called for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas and condemned Israel's airstrike in the village of Qana.

"Such mistakes are a callous violation of the elementary norms of international humanitarian law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement. The Foreign Ministry also criticized the United States -- without naming it -- for its refusal to pressure Israel into halting its offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. "The logic and arguments of those who, for various reasons, are dragging out a cease-fire cannot be accepted," Kamynin said.