Israel is to expand its offensive against Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, has said, less than a day after its attack on Qana provoked outrage.
Peretz said in a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, that Israel must not agree to an immediate ceasefire in the almost three-week long conflict, despite an announced decision on Sunday to observe a 48-hour halt in airstrikes on southern Lebanon.
His speech was followed by air strikes on a town near the Syrian border.
The suspension followed a wave of protest from around the world over the bombing of a building in the southern town of Qana which killed more than 60 people, including 37 children.
As Lebanon observed a national day of mourning for the innocent victims, Israeli aircraft also carried out raids in the Taibe area of southern Lebanon.
The air strikes were in support of its ground forces engaging Hezbollah fighters, the Israeli army said.
One Lebanese soldier was killed and three more wounded by Israeli naval fire north of the port city of Tyre, Lebanese police said.
Three Israeli soldiers were also wounded when Hezbollah fighters attacked two tanks with missiles near the Lebanese border town of Kila, the Israeli army said.
In Lebanon, banks and public offices were closed, while flags flew at half mast in memory of those killed in Sunday’s attack, the biggest single loss of life since Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon began almost three weeks ago.
Lebanese newspapers printed large pictures of dead children being retrieved from under the rubble in the town, some framed in black in a sign of mourning.
Rescue workers reportedly called off a search for survivors after spending hours digging by hand to find the corpses of those killed.
Meanwhile, Israeli defence minister Peretz told a stormy, extraordinary session of the Knesset: ‘If there is an immediate ceasefire, the extremists will immediately rear their heads.’
He continued amid repeated interruptions from Israeli Arab MPs, two of whom were evicted from the chamber.
Peretz said: ‘Israel will expand its operations against Hezbollah. The army is ready to fulfil the objectives outlined by the government.’
Peretz’s speech followed Israeli army operations chief General Gadi Eisenkaut’s statement on Sunday night that ‘by Wednesday we are going to establish a 2km-wide “security zone” in which there will be no infrastructure or sign of Hezbollah’s presence.’
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had said earlier yesterday, that she believed a ceasefire could be in place this week.
Overnight on Sunday Israeli fighter jets launched air strikes in eastern Lebanon near Syria. Israel claimed the attacks came before the start of the 48-hour suspension.
• The UN Security Council yesterday passed a resolution giving Iran a month to suspend uranium enrichment or face possible sanctions.
The resolution says ‘appropriate measures’ will be taken if Iran does not comply.
• Second news story
BUSH AND BLAIR IN ‘CRIMINAL COMPLICITY’
Rail union RMT yesterday submitted an emergency motion to the International Transport Workers’ Federation Congress in Durban condemning ‘Israel’s continued assault on the Lebanese people’ and calling for an immediate ceasefire.
The RMT motion also ‘condemns the US and UK governments for using Prestwick Airport, in Scotland, to assist US planes carrying bombs to Israel’.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: ‘The number-one international priority is to stop the mass slaughter of innocent people.
‘The unrelenting indiscriminate bombardment of civilians is a crime against humanity, which has been given tacit approval by the shameful silence of both the British and US governments.
‘Allowing the use of Prestwick or any other UK airport to airlift weapons of mass destruction to Israel in the midst of the carnage gives the lie to the pretence that the British government is somehow seeking a “diplomatic solution”.
‘While the rest of the world has condemned the bombing of southern Lebanon, Bush is sending Israel more weapons of mass destruction and Blair is standing by in criminal complicity.
‘The world is demanding an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.’