Ehud Olmert said he wanted peacekeepers to have a mandate that would include enforcing a United Nations resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah.

"If indeed, as we hope, the international force will be an effective force made of combat units, then we will be able to stop fire when the international force will be on the ground in the south part of Lebanon," Olmert said.

He added that Israel's offensive had already destroyed much of the group's military ability.

"The infrastructure of Hezbollah has been entirely destroyed. More than 700 ... command positions of Hezbollah were entirely wiped out by the Israeli army. All the population which is the power base of the Hezbollah in Lebanon was displaced," he said.

Olmert said a reduction in the number of rocket attacks on Israel was proof of how badly the group had been damaged although more than 70 rockets were fired into Israel on Tuesday.

Syria 'reckless'

During an interview he criticised Syria – one of Hezbollah’s main backers – calling its leaders reckless, "immature" and promoters of terror.

Meanwhile, ambassadors from the five permanent UN security council members and UN secretary general Kofi Annan held "frank discussions" on the Middle East crisis in New York on Tuesday.
  
Differences over the deployment of an international force and the timing of a ceasefire meant the five nations - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - were unable to agree on a resolution.

Another UN meeting to discuss contributions to a potential force is due to be held on Thursday but France will not take part, diplomatic sources said.

France has been mentioned as a possible leader of an international force but wants a truce and an agreement on a framework for a permanent ceasefire before any troops are deployed.

Damascus visit

Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, is travelling to the region for talks with Syria on behalf of the European Union. The visit will be the first to Damascus by a senior European official since Moratinos last visited in March.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, criticised the UN and the US for "preventing a ceasefire in Lebanon."
  
"Prevention of a ceasefire in Lebanon is an eternal disgrace, a stain on the United Nations security council's men headed by the criminal America," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the US would receive "a destructive punch" for its support for "Zionists", and called on Muslims to resist US "bullying and aggression.”

The US accuses Tehran - along with Syria - of arming and financing Hezbollah and encouraging its attacks on Israel.