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Israel to expand Lebanon offensive

Al Jazeera | July 31, 2006

Israel said it would halt airstrikes on Sunday for 48 hours

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 deadly attack on Qana provoked outrage.

Peretz said in a speech to the Israeli parliament that Israel must not agree to an immediate ceasefire in the almost three-week long conflict, despite a decision on Sunday to observe a 48-hour halt in airstrikes in southern Lebanon.

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 50 people, including more than 20 children.

But Israeli aircraft carried out raids in the Taibe area of southern Lebanon on Monday to support ground forces fighting Hezbollah guerrillas, the Israeli army said.

Also on Monday, one Lebanese soldier was also killed on Monday and three wounded by Israeli naval fire north of the port city of Tyre, 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.

At least two rockets fired by Hezbollah fighters also hit an area near the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, Israeli media reported.

Beirut protest

In Lebanon, people were observing a national day of mourning following the deaths in Qana.

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.

Arab and Islamic leaders have condemned the attack.

In Beirut on Sunday, protesters smashed their way into the United Nations headquarters as thousands massed outside chanting "Death to Israel, Death to America".

Gunmen also stormed and looted the UN compound in Gaza City during a protest over the bombing. At least two people were wounded.

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