July 28, 2006
By Harry de Quetteville in Jerusalem
Everyone remaining in southern Lebanon will be regarded as a terrorist, Israel’s justice minister said yesterday as the military prepared to employ “huge firepower” from the air in its campaign to crush Hizbollah.
Haim Ramon issued the warning as the Israeli government decided against expanding ground operations after the death of nine soldiers in fighting on Wednesday.
“What we should do in southern Lebanon is employ huge firepower before a ground force goes in,” Mr Ramon said at a security cabinet meeting headed by Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. “Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah. Our great advantage vis-a-vis Hizbollah is our firepower, not in face-to-face combat.”
Mr Olmert promised that the army would “continue toward the established goals”.
Mr Ramon’s comments suggested that civilian casualties in Lebanon, which stand at about 600 after 16 days of bombardment, could rise yet higher.
The government’s unrelenting line has the backing of the Israeli media, which are demanding a harsh response to an ambush in the Hizbollah stronghold of Bint Jbeil, in which eight soldiers died.
The country’s biggest-selling paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, said the army had raised the threshold of response to Katyusha rockets.
“In other words: a village from which rockets are fired at Israel will simply be destroyed by fire,” it said.
“This decision should have been made and executed after the first Katyusha. But better late than never.”
Three divisions of reserve soldiers, up to 15,000 men, are to be called up.
Almost 50 Hizbollah missiles landed in northern Israel yesterday, wounding four people and bringing the total number of rockets fired into the country to about 1,400.