BEIRUT, Lebanon, AP – Hezbollah’s chief spokesman said Thursday that his group will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon. “Declaring a cease-fire is not the concern of the people of Lebanon as long as there is one Israeli soldier on Lebanese soil — even one meter (into Lebanon),” Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said in a live interview with Al-Jazeera television.
“We will not accept any (Israeli) soldier staying on Lebanese territory, and it is the right of every Lebanese to fight until liberation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Israel renewed airstrikes on Beirut’s southern suburbs, and an Israeli missile killed three people in a border village a day after Hezbollah launched its biggest rocket attacks yet on Israel.
Three weeks into the conflict, six Israeli brigades — roughly 10,000 troops — were locked in fighting with hundreds of Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, and the battle looked likely to be long and bitter.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said more than 900 people had been killed and 3,000 wounded, but he did not say whether the new figure — up from 548 confirmed dead — included the missing.
More than 1 million people, a quarter of Lebanon’s population, have been displaced, he said, adding the fighting “is taking an enormous toll on human life and infrastructure, and has totally ravaged our country and shattered our economy.”
Although diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting have thus far faltered, diplomats said the United States and France were working on two U.N. resolutions to overcome the impasse.
One would call for an immediate cease-fire and lay out political principles for a long-term settlement, while the second would deal with deploying an international force to secure the border between Lebanon and Israel and other issues.
Diplomats said the key elements in that framework include halting the fighting, disarming Hezbollah, deploying peacekeepers and creating a buffer zone in south Lebanon free of Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops.
The U.S. has opposed an immediate cease-fire without simultaneous steps to deploy peacekeepers and tackle Hezbollah’s disarmament. France has insisted that the fighting be halted first to pave the way for a wider peace.
The Israeli army said its soldiers had taken up positions in or near 11 towns and villages across south Lebanon as they try to carve out a five-mile-wide Hezbollah-free zone ahead of deployment of a multinational force there.
Most of the villages are near the Israel-Lebanon border; the one deepest inside Lebanon, Majdel Zoun, is about four miles from the frontier. However, many tanks pushed farther north, controlling open areas from higher ground, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation.
In heavy ground fighting, one Israeli soldier was killed and four wounded around the southern village of Ayt a-Shab, the Israeli military said. It said four Hezbollah fighters were killed and two wounded in the region; there was no confirmation from Hezbollah.
Lebanese security officials said a missile crashed into a two-story house in the border village of Taibeh, killing a couple and their daughter.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reported that guerrillas also clashed with Israeli troops in the village, less than three miles from the border, destroying a tank and two bulldozers and wounding its crew members. The Israeli army said a tank had been lightly hit in clashes but that there were no casualties or serious damage.
In the first air raids on the Lebanese capital in almost a week, witnesses said at least four missiles hit the southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, a Shiite Muslim area that has been repeatedly shelled by Israel since the current fighting began.
Lebanese television said the attacks targeted several buildings in a Hezbollah compound. The compound, which includes a center for religious teaching, was damaged by earlier raids.
In the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, fighter jets struck an ambulance working for a local Muslim group, Lebanese security officials said.
Israeli warplanes also fired more than a dozen missiles at roads and suspected guerrilla hideouts in the southeastern town of Rashaya, the security officials said. They said the attacks were part of Israel’s strategy to destroy Lebanese infrastructure.
Other strikes hit targets near Lebanon’s northern border with Syria overnight, Lebanese radio said. It was the second attack in the area in 24 hours, after a bridge linking the zone to the northern port of Tripoli was destroyed Wednesday.
The strikes came after Hezbollah scored its deepest hits on Israel yet with missiles landing Wednesday in the West Bank and Beit Shean, Israel, about 42 miles from the border.
An Israeli-American man was killed near a northern town, and 21 others were wounded elsewhere across Israel as Hezbollah fired a record 230 rockets into the country. The rocket attacks kept up on Thursday, with 33 rockets landing in Israel early in the day.
Meanwhile, an Israeli military inquiry on the bombing Sunday of a building in the south Lebanese village of Qana, which killed mostly women and children, admitted a mistake but charged that Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as shields for their rocket attacks.
“Had the information indicated that civilians were present … the attack would not have been carried out,” a statement from the inquiry said.
While officials had put the death toll at 56 in the attack, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday there were 28 known dead and 13 missing.
The prospect of a longer war already has raised tensions across the Mideast, where anti-Israeli and anti-American hostility is now sharp. Arab leaders have warned repeatedly in recent days that the fighting has hampered, or killed outright, any hope for a long-term peace deal.
On Thursday, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi condemned the U.N. Security Council for not having the “moral courage to condemn Israel” as he opened an emergency session of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“The United Nations has not been able to do much except to try organizing the distribution of humanitarian aid,” Abdullah said, adding that “no end seems in sight” to the conflict.
Muslim leaders at the meeting demanded the U.N. implement an immediate cease-fire and launch an investigation into what it called flagrant human rights violations by Israel.
In Jordan, King Abdullah II lashed out at his U.S. and Israeli allies, saying in newspaper interviews Thursday that he was “enraged” by the war on Lebanon and that prolonged fighting has weakened moderates in the Mideast.
Abdullah proposed an immediate cease-fire followed by diplomacy to “deal with the crisis from its roots.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his country would stop its offensive only after a robust international peacekeeping force was in place in southern Lebanon to protect Israel from border raids and rocket attack.
At least 548 Lebanese have been killed since the fighting began, including 477 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry, 25 Lebanese soldiers and at least 46 Hezbollah guerrillas. The health minister says the toll could be as high as 750, including those still buried in rubble or missing.
In all, 56 Israelis have died — 37 soldiers as well as 19 civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.