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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political-security cabinet voted in the early hours of Tuesday morning to expand Israel's ground operation in south Lebanon.

Under the plan, and similar to last week's operation carried out in Bint Jbail, IDF forces will mount raids on villages that have served as Hezbollah bases. The plan was presented to Olmert during meetings held Saturday with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and defense establishment heads.

The cabinet voted nearly unanimously in favor of the plan, with none opposed and one abstention.

Political sources in Jerusalem said on Monday that the UN Security Council would call for a cease-fire on Friday that would take effect starting Saturday. The fighting, however, may continue for a few more days, sources estimated.

Olmert reiterated on Monday that Israel would continue its offensive until the arrival of an international stabilization force in Lebanon. "Israel is continuing to fight," Olmert told a mayors conference in Tel Aviv. "There is no cease-fire, and there will not be a cease-fire in the upcoming days."

Meanwhile, the IDF markedly intensified its ground offensive in southern Lebanon on Monday. Despite the significant reduction in the number of aerial strikes, in keeping with the agreement reached with the U.S. administration Sunday night, the IDF was instructed to deploy larger forces in the field.

Military sources said Monday night that the IDF now would make a concerted effort to achieve ground success through operations that the army has avoided until now.

IDF bulldozers will raze the remaining Hezbollah outposts along the border; at the same time, the army will beef up its presence in the field, and carry out searches and raids in other villages in an effort to locate both weapons and Hezbollah fighters.

Five brigade-level commands - more than twice the number of forces operating in the area thus far - will operate in southern Lebanon.

The IDF also suggested other far-reaching moves to the cabinet last night, including the deployment of reserve forces. Military officials also believe the IDF has a few days to complete ground operations before a cease-fire is declared.

Senior officers assessed on Monday that the damage sustained by Hezbollah is far greater than originally believed. They said many of the organization's senior commanders have been killed or wounded.

According to Israeli estimates, Hezbollah still has about 9,000 Katyusha rockets.

The prime minister said that Israel would no longer accept the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah, and would not allow the organization to restore its capabilities after the fighting is over.

"The organization's leadership is in hiding; they are afraid for their lives, and we will continue to pursue them wherever they are and at all times," the prime minister said.

The Prime Minister's Bureau clarified Monday night that Sunday night's announcement regarding a 48-hour suspension of air strikes is not a cease-fire. Bureau officials said the ground operation is continuing, and expanding, and the air force has been instructed to attack any target that appears to be a threat to Israel. The air force also has license to attack identified Hezbollah personnel.

Olmert: There will be no cease-fire in coming daysOlmert said Monday evening that there would be no cease-fire in the coming days, despite a 48-hour halt in Israel Air Force activity in Lebanon.

He said the offensive in southern Lebanon would end when the rockets fired by Hezbollah cease and the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers abducted on July 12 are returned.

"We will stop the war when the [rocket] threat is removed..., our captive soldiers return home in peace, and you are able to live in safety and security," Olmert said, addressing the mayors of northern towns.

He also warned that Israel still faced "no small number of days of fighting."

"We should be ready for pain, tears and blood," he said. "Missiles and rockets will still land in Israel in the coming days."

Israel had had no choice but to begin its attacks on Hezbollah after the guerrillas carried out their cross-border attack, in which eight other soldiers were killed, he said.

"We could not let the terror organization on our border get stronger, let them get more missiles," he said. "If we had held off, the day would have arrived soon when they would have caused unprecedented damage."

He said that even as he spoke, Israeli forces continued fighting in the air, from the sea and on the ground in Lebanon. "We are determined to succeed in this struggle," he said. "We will not give up on our goal to live a life free of terror."

Olmert also lauded the operation's successes: "The achievements are very significant," he said. "Hezbollah of today does not look like the Hezbollah of 20 days ago - threatening, arrogant and dangerous. They have taken a hard hit, and it will take them a long time to recover from it - if at all," he said.

"We have pushed Hezbollah back from its positions along the border with Israel, and we have eliminated this immediate threat," the prime minister said. "We will no longer consent to Hezbollah's returning to these positions and continuing to threaten to abduct soldiers and fire on northern communities.

"This is a unique opportunity to change the rules in Lebanon," he said.

The prime minister brushed off international criticism about the fighting in Lebanon, saying that no other country would accept similar attacks against it.

Hezbollah has fired more than 1,600 rockets into northern Israel since the conflict erupted. At least 300,000 of the one million residents of the north have been driven from their homes. Others have been holed up in bomb shelters.

The prime minister expressed regret for the attack in the southern Lebanon village of Qana on Sunday, which killed 56 people, among them 37 children.

"I am sorry from bottom of heart for all deaths of children or women in Qana," Olmert said. "We did not search them out... they were not our enemies and we did not look for them."

Addressing the people of Lebanon, he told them that they were not Israel's enemy, but rather Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah - whom he accused of carrying out the policies of Syria and Iran - was.

"We are not fighting against the Lebanese people. We are not fighting against its government. We are fighting terrorism and we will not stop the fight against them until we push them away from our borders," he said.

Peretz: IDF to step up actionDefense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset on Monday afternoon that Israel must not agree to an immediate cease-fire, and that the military would expand and strengthen its attacks against Hezbollah.

The suspension of aerial activity was announced in the wake of the IAF strike in Qana.

A senior government source said earlier Monday that the IAF had been told to continue acting against "targets that present a threat to Israel and its troops, including rocket launchers, vehicles transporting ammunition, Hezbollah fighters, weapons stores and Hezbollah assets."

The term "Hezbollah assets" refers to people identified with the organization, including those who do not pose an immediate threat. "If they are identified with Hassan Nasrallah, we will hit them," the source said.

Regarding the instructions to the IAF, the source said, however, "there will be no attacks on buildings that had not been identified" as part of efforts to strike Israel, and held, for example, ammunition, Hezbollah fighters or their commanders."

"We cannot agree to an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon because then we will find ourselves in a few months in a similar situation," Peretz told a heated parliamentary debate during which four Israeli Arab lawmakers were escorted out for heckling. One Knesset member called Peretz a murderer.

"We have to finish the operation, and I will do it," he said. "The army will expand and deepen its actions against Hezbollah."

He expressed regret over the deaths of civilians in an IAF strike in Qana on Sunday, and said that the army would investigate.

"When Hezbollah kill civilians in Haifa, they see it as an operational success, but when we harm civilians, it's a failure," he said. "I am sorry for what happened in Qana village, and we won't hesitate to investigate any operation we carry out, [but] we aren't doing it to look good in anyone else's eyes."

Rice: Cease-fire could be forged this weekU.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking after the 48-hour suspension took effect earlier Monday, said she believed a cease-fire to end fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could be forged this week.

"This morning, as I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent cease-fire and lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week," she told reporters in Jerusalem.

The Israeli suspension of air strikes in Lebanon began early in the day and covers the entire country, an IDF spokesman said.

Nevertheless, IDF ground operations will continue as before, with the intention of completing the demolition of Hezbollah positions along the border by Thursday.

The suspension of IAF activity was first suggested in a meeting Sunday between Rice and Olmert, during which the secretary of state asked that Israel open a 24-hour "corridor" for residents to leave south Lebanon, effective immediately.

After hearing Olmert's explanations for the attack at Qana, Rice asked the prime minister what steps would be taken to prevent such an incident from happening again, in order to avoid having an impact on the war effort. Rice said that when such incidents occurred in Iraq, the operations were suspended until the completion of an investigation.

Following the meeting, the offices of the prime minister and defense minister decided to limit the aerial activity until the completion of the investigation. The announcement was supposed to have been made by the Israeli military, but due to a misunderstanding, it actually came from the American side.

Israel was also to coordinate with the United Nations to allow a 24-hour window for residents of southern Lebanon to leave the area if they wish, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told a briefing in Jerusalem.

Rice won the 48-hour suspension from Israel following the Qana attack, which sparked an international outcry.

"I have been deeply grieved by the tragic losses we have witnessed, especially the deaths of children, Lebanese and Israelis. Too many families have been displaced from their homes. Too many people urgently need medical care or are living in shelters," she said Sunday.

Israel also agreed to allow a 24-hour window for residents of southern Lebanon to leave the area if they wish. Rice said she hoped this could be extended.

Rice told reporters in Jerusalem that she would call for a UN resolution this week on the cease-fire and also the establishment of an international stabilisation force for Lebanon, which she said she hoped could be deployed as soon as possible after the UN resolution.

"There is broad agreement that armed groups must be prohibited in areas where the international force is deployed," she said, adding an arms embargo must be enforced.

The pause in overflights began at 2 A.M. Monday (23:00 GMT Sunday) and will last for 48 hours, the IDF spokesman said. An attack on a main highway near Lebanon's border with Syria occurred about two hours before the start of the suspension of air strikes, the IDF said.

Israel reserves the right during the suspension to attack any militants who pose an immediate threat to Israel, like those preparing to launch rockets against Israel or transporting rockets that they are preparing to fire, the IDF said.