south lebanon map UNIFIL.
(photo credit: UNIFIL)
IDF operations in Lebanon continued to expand on Saturday, with armored, infantry and engineering forces extending deep into Lebanon, with the goal of covering the entire region between the Israeli border and the Litani River.
Israel had reportedly landed the most number of troops in enemy territory in the largest aerial mission since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
According to the IDF, troops were advancing north and west toward the Litani River, some 30 kilometers from Israel. Taking the territory would take several days, the army said, following which the IDF would operate in the area to remove the terror infrastructure and to destroy rocket launchers.
Cease-fire analysis: Not so bad in theory
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said that Israel had nearly tripled the number of forces in Lebanon as part of its expanded ground war in Lebanon, and expects to fight for another week.
Halutz said on Saturday that "We do not know much space will pass between the decision accepted at the UN and its implementation in the field. We cannot allow such an indefinable period - an empty period - in which to one is acting."
He stressed that the IDF would continue to fight Hizbullah until the cease-fire was implemented, or at least until it was decided how the decisions are to be enforced, Army Radio reported.
Government officials said IDF operations would not stop until the army's goals were reached, despite the passage of UN Security Council resolution 1701.
Senior army officers said that until the cabinet - set to convene on Sunday to approve the resolution - orders them to halt the operation, the army would continue pushing northward.
It was believed that the IDF would use all the means at its disposal to gain as much ground as possible until it is ordered to stop, a decision expected to be taken in the coming days.
If the cabinet approves the cease-fire, the army would have to halt all "offensive operations," according to the text of the UN resolution, but would be allowed to respond if attacked.
Early Saturday, the IDF was ordered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to take over all areas in south Lebanon from which rockets have been fired at Israel.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz and senior IDF officers visited the Northern Command headquarters in Safed overnight Friday in order to oversee the beginning of the IDF incursion meant to carry out the government's order.
IDF forces have killed at least 20 Hizbullah fighters in Saturday fighting, the IDF said. Reports also indicated IDF casualties in fierce gun battles raging in south Lebanon.
According to Northern Command Chief of Staff Brig.-Gen. Alon Friedman, the last part of the operation could take several weeks. In an interview with Israel Radio on Saturday, Friedman said the IDF could expand its operations past the Litani if it was ordered to do so by the government, and emphasized that the IDF would continue to operate in south Lebanon until the cabinet gave different instructions.
A senior IDF source said on Saturday morning that the army believed the operation to clear launchers from south Lebanon would last several days. Senior government officials reportedly have said that the IDF could succeed in taking all the territories from which rockets had been fired despite the short timeline given to continued military operations by the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Israeli officials expressed satisfaction with the resolution, and the government was scheduled to vote on the cease-fire at its weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
The IDF had started a widened operation in south Lebanon after Wednesday's cabinet decision that authorized the army to carry out a massive ground offensive "to deal with the Hizbullah positions in south Lebanon, from which barrages of missiles continue to be launched against the Israeli civilian population," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
"Our action does not exclude a diplomatic option," Regev said before the Security Council vote. "But... it is incumbent upon the government to defend its citizens."
According to military sources, close to 70 percent of the Katyusha rockets raining down on Israel are fired from just south and north of the Litani river. It is in these parts of Lebanon that the Hizbullah's Nasser Unit is waiting with thousands of fighters and functioning command and control centers.