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Cabinet Minister Ramon: 'IDF Will Start Push To Litani River Within Hours If Diplomatic Effort Fails At U.N.'

Fifteen IDF Soldiers Killed In Fighting Near Border Area - Bodies Of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Found Among Forty Dead Guerrillas

U.S. Congressional Delegation: 'Israel Can Count On Us'

Israel has approved an IDF advance to the Litani River in Lebanon but is waiting to see if the diplomatic effort can halt the Hezbollah missile barrage and force the guerrillas away from the Israeli-Lebanese border. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

'The IDF will get the green light within hours to push to the Litani River, if the diplomatic effort fails at the U.N. on Thursday'. That's how Justice Minister Haim Ramon describes the current situation.

Israel is determined to halt the launching of Hezbollah missiles from Lebanon and drive the guerrillas out of the border area. The security cabinet has decided it will be done one way or the other. After a tense six hour debate, it approved an IDF proposal presented by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The plan calls for IDF ground forces to push north some twenty Kilometers and more to the Litani River. This would put the rocket launchers out of range of most towns and villages in northern Israel.

At the same time, Israelis waiting to see what happens to the diplomatic effort at the U.N. Ramon says the government prefers a diplomatic solution rather expanding the war that could cost the lives of many I.D.F. soldiers. Some military experts believe that up to three hundred troops could be killed in such an operation. Funded and trained by Iran , Hezbollah has had six years to fortify the area by building tank traps and planting mines. But the clock is ticking for the diplomatic effort and Jerusalem demands there will be no return to the situation before July 12th when Hezbollah attacked Israel at will. If the political process falls through, Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz have been authorized to give the IDF the green light.

Justice Minister Ramon told Israel Radio that the security cabinet meeting was the toughest he's ever attended. All ministers realized that expanding the war would mean a 'significant number of soldiers would be killed'. But they also realized that this was a war for Israel 's survival that must be won. In his words: It means sacrificing lives to save more lives'.     

Yesterday, the deaths of fifteen soldiers   proved what's at stake. And the bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guards among the forty Hezbollah dead prove how deep Tehran is involved. During the discussion Defense Minister Peretz and his predecessor Shaul Mofaz clashed. Mofaz took issue with some aspects of the IDF Litani proposal. Peretz retorted: 'Where were you as Defense Minister when Hezbollah was arming to the teeth along the border!' It was a sign of things to come when the dust starts to settle after the war.     

The U.S. has stood by Israel at the U.N. in seeking a viable diplomatic solution not some stop-gap that will enable Hezbollah to renew attacks in the future. But what of America's support for an Israeli drive to the Litani River. Visiting Israel in a show of solidarity is a delegation of U.S. Members of Congress. They represent more than 400 of their colleagues who signed a resolution backing Israel in the war. Leading the delegation was Congressman Jeffrey Miller from Florida.


(Insert: Congressman Jeffrey Miller)

David Essing

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