Israel's Military Operation Open-Ended, Olmert Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel launched "pinpoint" ground operations just over the border in Lebanon on Wednesday as the Air Force continued its heavy assault on Hizballah targets.

Fox News reported on Wednesday that an Israeli Special Forces unit -- sent into southern Lebanon to "paint targets" -- was engaged by Hizballah, and two Israeli troops were wounded in the exchange. The wounded troops were pulled back to Israel.

More rockets fell on northern Israeli communities on Wednesday morning and Israeli jets pounded more than two dozen sites in southern Lebanon overnight as foreigners continued to flee.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Haifa on Tuesday evening, saying that Iran had succeeded in diverting world attention away from itself during the recent G-8 meeting.

Olmert, who was within the range of the rockets that have been falling on northern Israel, said that his country's military offensive would not stop until Israel is certain there is no threat of missiles falling on the Israeli people.

He would not put a time limit on the Israeli military operation.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Tuesday that the operation would continue "without letup and time limit."

Various Israeli officials have estimated that the military operation could continue for another two weeks to a month, as Israel crushes Hizballah by ending its ability to fire rockets at northern Israeli communities.

The U.S. has not yet pressed Israel for a ceasefire. Although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the area, the time and date of her visit have not been officially announced.

On Tuesday, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman said he understood Rice would be traveling to Israel on Friday, but the State Department would not confirm that.

Rice's eventual arrival in Israel could signal that Israel's time is running out to complete its military operation, some analysts said.

Press reports said Rice would go to the United Nations on Thursday to discuss the Middle East crisis with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Tuesday the U.S. would love to see a ceasefire but not if there was no change in the situation. "A ceasefire that will leave the status quo...intact is unacceptable," he said.

President Bush said on Tuesday it appeared that Syria was trying to make its way back into Lebanon but that it was in America's interest for Syria to stay out and for the Lebanese government to survive.

In Lebanon, some 35 people were reported killed in air strikes on Tuesday and another Israeli was killed when a rocket crashed into the Israeli town of Nahariya.

The Israeli army dropped leaflets on areas of southern Lebanon warning the civilian population "to stay clear of areas from which rockets are launched against Israel" The leaflets warned that these areas would become targets for the Israeli Air Force and that civilians remaining in those areas "are endangering their lives."

The leaflets also stressed that any truck or pickup truck traveling south of the Litani River (about 15 miles north of the Israeli border) would be suspected of transporting weapons and rockets and would therefore be a potential target for the Israeli army.

This is the area most often used for firing rockets at Israel, the army said.

The army estimates that some 60,000 Lebanese who are residents of southern villages have fled north to escape the Israeli bombings.

Israel has come under heavy criticism for civilian casualties. But the army said it was "trying hard not to hit civilians."

Civilians are being killed because the Hizballah operates within civilian populations and stores its weapons and launches rockets from within civilian areas, an army spokesperson said.

Israel has said that it is after Hizballah institutions and infrastructure as well as its weapons stockpiles and rockets. Many rockets are stored in village homes in southern Lebanon, experts have said.

On Wednesday a small Israeli force went into Lebanon, looking for tunnels and weapons, but this was not the type of large-scale ground incursion that may come eventually. According to reports, the force was operating just over the border.

In the south, Israeli forces are still operating in the central Gaza Strip. A number of Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with Israeli troops. Earlier, five Israeli soldiers were reported wounded in a grenade attack on troops.

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