Israel strikes northeastern Lebanon
Olmert: Hezbollah weakened every day


NORTHERN ISRAEL (CNN) -- The Israeli military engaged in fierce fighting Tuesday with Hezbollah forces just across the border with Lebanon, and the Lebanese Army reported Israeli aircraft struck targets near the Syrian border.

Israeli aircraft hit "several" targets near the northeastern Lebanese town of Baalbeck, the Lebanese army reported.

The army also reported heavy helicopter traffic east and west of the town. The Arab-language television network Al-Arabiya said it appeared the Israeli army was attempting to drop in soldiers.

The Israel Defense Forces had no comment on the reports.

Israeli forces also waged a firefight with Hezbollah forces in the town of Aita Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon, and warned residents almost 20 miles inside the country to leave the area. (Watch Israeli bombardment pound Aita Al-Shaab -- 3:09)

Israel hit the town with heavy shelling and 500-pound bombs, and the sound of gunfire exchange could be heard. (Watch Israeli troops move toward Lebanon's border -- 2:26)

Israel Defense Forces said its troops had killed or wounded 20 Hezbollah forces in battles Tuesday.

Hezbollah said four of its forces died in the fighting.

In Tayba, the IDF said it has taken control of several strategic positions that have been used by Hezbollah fighters to launch missiles at northern Israel over the past two weeks. (See where the fighting is taking place)

Israeli police reported 14 cross-border strikes hitting northern Israel on Tuesday, including two with Katyusha rockets and 12 with mortar shells.

Israel says it has killed 300 of the estimated 2,000 Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon during its three-week offensive.

"Hezbollah has taken a serious beating, and that is why the pressure of a ground offensive will produce the expected results," Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Tuesday on Israeli Channel 10.

A Hezbollah spokesman says 43 of its fighters have been killed, Reuters news service reported.

The IDF said Tuesday that three of its soldiers were killed and 25 wounded in the fighting in southern Lebanon. Five other soldiers were wounded on the Israeli side of the border when they were hit by a mortar shell, it said.

Ramon's announcement came after Israel's Security Cabinet approved an expansion of the ground campaign against Hezbollah.

While Hezbollah attacks into northern Israel have subsided in the past two days, Ramon said the Lebanese militia has increased the number of rocket launches from areas north of the Litani River -- about 20 miles from the border -- where the Israeli military has asked residents in two locations to evacuate.

Labor Party lawmaker Danny Yatom told The Associated Press that Israeli ground forces could go up to the Litani River.

The goal is "to control the area, to kill as many Hezbollah terrorists as possible and to destroy as many rockets and launchers as possible, in order to minimize the capabilities of Hezbollah," Yatom, a reserve general and former chief of the Mossad spy agency, told AP.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israeli forces were weakening Hezbollah daily and that no cease-fire would come until Israel was safe from a future war.

"Every additional day is a day that drains the strength of this cruel enemy," Olmert said in a speech Tuesday. "Every extra day is a day in which the [army] reduces their capability, contains their firing ability and their ability to hit in the future."

Other developments pointed to a lengthening of the 20-day-old conflict.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday directed his country's military to heighten its readiness, the state news agency SANA reported.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held the United States and Britain responsible for the bloodshed in Lebanon, AP reported.

"The U.S. and Britain are accomplices in all crimes committed by the occupying Zionist regime and have to answer to these crimes," he said in a speech, drawing shouts of "Death to America" from the crowd in northeastern Iran.

President Bush said Monday there could be no cease-fire until Hezbollah was reined in and called on Iran and Syria to stop aiding Hezbollah. (Watch Bush call for 'a cease-fire that will last' -- 3:22) (Full story)

Aid process difficult
Meanwhile, the United Nations said it has not had much success getting aid into southern Lebanon during Israel's self-declared 48-hour lull in fighting.

"We did not achieve much," spokesman Khaled Mansour said. The U.N. asked Israel to allow three convoys through with about 30 trucks, but Israel denied permission for two of them, he said.

The European Union on Tuesday said it approved $64 million in humanitarian aid for Lebanon, and EU foreign ministers, meeting in emergency session Tuesday, called on Israel and Hezbollah to agree to an "immediate cessation of hostilities" followed by international efforts to get agreement on a sustainable cease-fire. (Full story)

The conflict began July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid.

As of Tuesday, 557 Lebanese civilians and soldiers have died and 2,128 have been wounded in the conflict, according to Lebanon's Internal Security Forces.

Israel has reported 54 deaths, including 19 civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks.