Israel to Send More Troops to Lebanon The Israeli Cabinet voted overnight to expand ground operations in southern Lebanon. Israel Radio reported that the number of ground troops in Lebanon will more than double. Despite growing international calls for a cease-fire, Israeli officials say the offensive against Hezbollah could last for weeks.
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Israel to Send More Troops to Lebanon

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Israel to Send More Troops to Lebanon

Israel to Send More Troops to Lebanon

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DON GONYEA, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea, in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Israeli cabinet voted overnight to expand Israel's ground operation in southern Lebanon. Israel radio reported the number of ground troops in Lebanon will be more than doubled. Israeli officials say that despite growing international calls for a cease-fire, Israel's offensive in Lebanon against Hezbollah could last for weeks. Israeli officials say they have hit Hezbollah hard, but the group continues to fire rockets and mortars at northern Israel.

NPR's Linda Gradstein is in Jerusalem. And Linda, how deep into Lebanon does Israel plan to take this ground offensive?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, so far the ground offensive has been mostly within a few miles of the border between Israel and Lebanon. However, Israeli officials - including former deputy defense minister and now Knesset member Ephraim Sneh - talked about going up to the Litani River - that's 18 miles north of the Israel-Lebanon border - in order to push back at Hezbollah and the rocket launchers, and to make it harder for them to hit northern Israel.

MONTAGNE: And this expansion of the ground offensive comes amid what was supposed to be a 48-hour suspension of Israel's air campaign, which turned out to be a partial suspension. The air campaign continues.

GRADSTEIN: That's right. The air campaign does continue. Israeli officials said that they told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she was here on Sunday and Monday that the suspension does not include anything that's seen as an immediate target - for example, Hezbollah fighters or rocket launchers. And they say that the Bush administration accepted Israel's position on this.

Hezbollah has fired more Katyusha rockets at northern Israel this morning. There are no injuries so far, but the sense is that there certainly is no cease-fire. And last night, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was very clear about saying there is no cease-fire. And he has said that the only way that Israel would consider a cease-fire is once an international force is in place.

At the same time, Israeli officials say that they are now going to more than double the number of troops in Lebanon, and they intend to try to really launch at least what some commentators were calling a last push. One compared it to a soccer game, and said we're now in overtime, and that this is Israel's last chance to really hit Hezbollah before a cease-fire is imposed.

MONTAGNE: Israel claims to have destroyed two-thirds of Hezbollah's long-range missiles, but Hezbollah rockets continue to fall in northern Israel.

GRADSTEIN: Well, that's right. I mean, the long-range missiles are these Zelzal missiles. They're supplied by Iran, and they can go up to 125 miles and can also reportedly carry a chemical warhead. A senior Israeli official said that Israel knew how many of these Hezbollah had, they know how many were fired, and that Israel has put a lot of effort into getting rid of these rockets and the rocket launchers. At the same time, the official said Hezbollah still has between 9,000 and 10,000 Katyusha rockets, and they've fired something like 2,000 in the almost three weeks that the war has been going on. So Israel says that Hezbollah still has a very strong military capability, and that Israel is going to try harder to knock out that capability.

MONTAGNE: And in Israel, the public has been very, very supportive of this war. Has that waned at all in the past few days?

GRADSTEIN: It does not seem to be waning, based both on polls and on, you know, everything that I'm sort of hearing and seeing. There've been a few small anti-war demonstrations. But even the Peace Now movement - which was very active in pushing for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon during the 1980s - supports the war.

Most Israelis who I speak to, even those on the left, say that they believe that Hezbollah started this conflict when it launched a cross-border raid and captured two Israeli soldiers, killed another eight soldiers. They believe that Hezbollah has just been waiting for a time to do this, and they see Hezbollah really as a serious threat to Israel. So most Israelis on the right, on the left are very supportive of the Israeli campaign, although some on the left say that if there is a large civilian death toll - or even a large death toll among soldiers - that opinion could shift.

MONTAGNE: Linda, thanks very much.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Linda Gradstein, speaking from Jerusalem.

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