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Military operation could take weeks: Israel

Israel's military offensive in Lebanon could stretch out for weeks and include "massive" amounts of ground forces, top Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Israel's military offensive in Lebanon could stretch out for weeks and include "massive" amounts of ground forces, top Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Israel will continue to strike Hezbollah targets until the captured soldiers are freed andIsraelis are safe from attacks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a visiting United Nations delegation.

Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, who heads Israeli army operations in the country's north, told Israel Army Radio that the operation will take "a few more weeks."

The army's deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, told Israel Radio that Israel has not ruled out deploying "massive ground forces into Lebanon."

Israel briefly sent ground troops into Lebanon early Monday in what sources said was a small operation in a limited area.

The military operation started seven days ago after an attack by the Lebanese-based militant organization Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers. Two soldiers were seized in the raid.

Lebanese casualties total 235, including more than 200 civilians, and 25 Israelis have been killed since the violence started.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday accused Syria of using the crisis to try to "get back into Lebanon."

Syria, under international pressure, ended its 28-year military presence in Lebanon last year.

Syria'sambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, said raising Syria was designed to divert attention from Israel's actions.

Diplomats trying to calm situation

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who also met with the UN delegation on Tuesday, said ongoing diplomatic efforts don't signal the end of the military campaign.

"The diplomatic process is not meant to shorten the window of time of the army's operation, but rather is meant to be an extension of it and to prevent a need for future military operations," she told reporters.

Diplomatic efforts will be thrust into the spotlight with the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to travel to the region shortly.Some reports said she could leave as early as Friday.

Speaking to reporters briefly on Tuesday, Rice said she believes a ceasefire should happen "as soon as possible when conditions are conducive."

Over the past two days, Israel has sent mixed signals about the terms of a ceasefire.

On Tuesday, Livni said aceasefire could happen if the two Israeli soldiers are released, Lebanese troops are deployed along the border and with a guarantee that the Hezbollah militia would be disarmed.

A day earlier, Olmert appeared to back down from an Israeli demand to disband Hezbollah.

Livni's comments appeared to suggest that Israel would accept a future disarmament.

Alan Baker, Israeli ambassador to Canada, said in an interview with CBC Newsworld on Tuesday that there would have to be a complete disarmament of Hezbollah for the conflict to end.

He said the UN Security Council is also calling on Hezbollah to end its rocket attacks and lay down its weapons.

"That is the only answer," he said.

Annan calls for peace force

Livnialso signalled Israel would be willing to accept some type of international stabilization force, as called for by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Livni said securing south Lebanon "requires activity by the Lebanese government, with the oversight [and] assistance of the international community."

She said Israel's experience with the current UN force was "not satisfactory" and that it prefers no such force in the long term.

Annan, who called for the force during the weekendG8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, repeated Tuesday that intervention is necessary.

"It is urgent that the international community acts to make a difference on the ground," Annan told reporters at a news conference in Brussels.

"I would expect a force that will have a modified and different concept of operation and with different capabilities. I would expect contributions from European countries and countries from other regions."

There are currently about 2,000 UN troops in Lebanon, but the force is seen as ineffectual and lacking.

On Monday, the United States and Israel downplayed the idea of a stabilization force.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday that it's too early to send in such a force.

With files from the Associated Press

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