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Israel says broader ground war in Lebanon yet to begin

AFP | August 10 2006

JERUSALEM - Israel said on Thursday it had not yet launched a threatened massive ground offensive in Lebanon, after tank units pushed into south Lebanon overnight, moving in to a major border town.

Government spokesman Aviv Pazner said the broader offensive approved at a six-hour crisis meeting on Wednesday has not yet begun.

“The cabinet gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz the authority to decide when to start this operation,” Pazner said.

“For the time being, it has not begun.”

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the timing of the broader offensive “depends to a great extent on what is happening now in New York”, where the United Nations has its headquarters.

The UN Security Council have been wrangling for days to draft a resolution acceptable to both Israel and Lebanon to end the four-week-old war which Israel launched to crush the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militia.

“The aim of the next phase of the operation is to significantly reduce rocket fire on Israel,” Dichter told army radio.

“We must exhaust all diplomatic options. Important efforts for a solution are being deployed in New York... It’s a matter of a few hours, maybe 24 hours, let’s be patient,” Justice Minister Haim Ramon told public radio.

“Of course, all of us without exception would prefer political means that will spare human lives to achieve the main goal of expanding of the offensive which is to stop rocket fire on Israel,” said Ramon, who is also a member of the security cabinet.

Transport Minister Yitzhak Herzog also said Israel was giving diplomacy a last chance.

“There is a political process under way and our sense of responsibility tells us to give it a bit more time,” he told army radio.

But he added that “the situation in Lebanon would be significally altered” should these efforts fail.

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