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According to a highly placed U.S. official, the decision by Israel to expand its ground offensive in Lebanon at the end of the war significantly affected the resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council.

According to the official, who held a press briefing yesterday, within two or three weeks a sufficient number of international troops will have arrived in Lebanon to enable the Israel Defense Forces to continue its withdrawal, which will be completed within two months.

Regarding Israel's blockade of Lebanon, the official said: "Of course normalcy must be restored to Lebanon as quickly as possible. However, the U.S. views the embargo as an important stage. All parties are obligated to take steps to impose the embargo on Hezbollah."

The official said that despite reports to the contrary, the U.S. did not press Israel to continue fighting. Rather, it sought to achieve a stable cease-fire.

"The goal was not merely to stop the violence, but rather to keep it from resuming," he said. Israel's decision to keep fighting even when the Security Council was close to agreeing on a resolution led to several significant changes - in Israel's favor, he said.

In response to the question of who won the war, the official said: "Israel did more serious damage to Hezbollah than Hezbollah did to Israel." He said Hezbollah's image as protector of Lebanon suffered a serious blow in the course of the fighting, but Israel's damage to Lebanese infrastructure strengthened support for Hezbollah.

On the issue of negotiations with Syria, U.S. officials do not support initiating contacts with Damascus for talks at this stage, for fear that this would be interpreted as prize for the Syrian government.

The official rejected the claim that the U.S. and Israel planned the campaign jointly.

"If it had been planned, I'm sure Israel would have prepared its forces much more thoroughly. We needed this war like a hole in the head," he said.