"The truth is... let me say this clearly... we didn't even expect [this] response ... that [Israel] would exploit this operation for this big war against us," Mahmoud Komati, the deputy chief of the Hezbollah politburo, told the Associated Press.

His comments were the first time that a leader from the group has publicly admitted that it miscalculated the consequences of the July 12 cross-border raid that seized two soldiers and killed eight others.

He said that Hezbollah had expected "the usual, limited response" from Israel.

"In the past, Israeli responses to Hezbollah actions included sending in commandos into Lebanon and kidnapping Hezbollah officials or briefly targeting specific Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon," he said.

Israeli strikes have reaped death
and destruction on south Lebanon

Komati also said that his group had expected negotiations to swap the soldiers for three Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, with Germany acting as a mediator as it had in past prisoner exchanges.

Counting casualties

According to Komati, casualty figures for the fighters were higher than previously thought.

"As of Monday there were 25 killed, not 11 as the group had previously reported," he said.

Hezbollah announced the deaths of two more guerrillas in border-fighting late on Tuesday, bringing the total to 27.

Although, Israel and Hezbollah had issued figures, it was not possible to determine independently the number of those killed or sometimes to distinguish between civilians and fighters.

Premeditated

Komati said Israel had planned its offensive in advance and was merely waiting for the right time to execute it.

He said that Hezbollah captured the Israeli soldiers from a military area, but Israelis had kidnapped Hezbollah leaders from their homes at night.

"They exploited this issue ... the kidnapping of the soldiers," he said. "The response is unjustified."

Israeli border policemen run from
rockets fired by Hezbollah.

Komati was adamant that Hezbollah would not lay down arms because of what he said was "Israeli occupation of Lebanese land, the threat of Israeli aggression and Lebanese prisoners still being held in Israeli jails".

Questioned about whether Hezbollah was firing Iranian-made missiles on Israel, Komati said: "We don't deny nor confirm. We believe where the weapons come from is irrelevant.

"Some of our fighters carry M16s. So you think we buy them from America?"

Komati said that Hezbollah had a diversified selection of weapons made in various countries, including the United States, France, China, and Russia.

In the past, Hezbollah leaders have always denied that Iran was supplying them with weapons.

Ceasefire

Komati said Hezbollah demanded an immediate end to Israeli attacks before agreeing to negotiate and rejected a blanket plan proposed by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, during Monday's surprise visit to Beirut.

Hezbollah rejected Comdoleezza
Rice's 'blanket plan'

The plan calls for the deployment of international and Lebanese troops into southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah attacks on Israel before a cease-fire.

He said he did not want to talk about the issues to be negotiated before a ceasefire, including the deployment of an international force.

"No one can talk about politics while the fire rages, and killings occur," Komati said.