Hezbollah guerrillas bombarded northern Israel with rockets and fought up to 6,000 Israeli troops in Lebanon yesterday after Israel vowed to pursue the war until a strong international force arrived.
Israeli commandos snatched suspected Hezbollah members from the ancient city of Baalbek in a helicopter-borne raid backed by air strikes that killed 19 people, including four children.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he wanted the international force to be mandated to enforce a UN resolution calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed, adding that Israel had already destroyed much of the group's military power.
Soon after he spoke, one of more than 80 rockets fired by Hezbollah yesterday landed just inside the West Bank after flying further than any fired at Israel in the past three weeks.
Hezbollah said it had hit the Israeli town of Beit Shean, almost 70km from the border, with "Khaibar 1" rockets to avenge Israeli attacks on civilians in Lebanon.
The Hezbollah barrage, which killed one person in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya, followed a relative lull in its attacks over the previous two days.
Battles raged on five fronts in south Lebanon, security sources said. Israeli planes and artillery pounded villages as tank-led forces pushed in and Hezbollah guerrillas fought back.
Olmert confirmed Israel would carry on fighting until an international force was on the ground in south Lebanon and listed the flight of civilians from the area as among the accomplishments of the Israeli military campaign.
"The infrastructure of Hezbollah has been entirely destroyed. More than 700 ... command positions of Hezbollah were entirely wiped out by the Israeli army," he said.
"All the population which is the power base of the Hezbollah in Lebanon was displaced."
At least 643 people in Lebanon and 55 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, now in its fourth week. Lebanon's health minister put the toll at 762, including unrecovered bodies.
At least 750,000 Lebanese, almost a quarter of the population, have been driven from their homes. Israeli bombardment has devastated many southern villages.
The UN Security Council has yet to agree on a mandate for an international force and France said it would not attend a meeting of potential troop contributors in New York today.
Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said yesterday that the end of the offensive was in sight.
"The offensive in Lebanon will last until the end of next week," Ramon told public radio.
"Today we have entered the fourth week of fighting and I counsel everyone to show determination and patience and let the army finish the job," Ramon said.