The article in Welt am Sonntag came as two civilians were killed in Lebanon when an Israeli aircraft struck a van travelling just ahead of a United Nations humanitarian convoy on Sunday.

When asked about criticism from European capitals of Israeli military operations that have led to a heavy civilian toll, Olmert said: "Where do they get the right to preach to Israel?
 
"European countries attacked Kosovo and killed 10,000 civilians. 10,000! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket.

"I'm not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please, don't preach to us about the treatment of civilians."

The Israeli prime minister said it would not be possible to completely destroy Hezbollah, and insisted he did not underestimate them, saying they had fired just 3,000 of their arsenal of 15,000 rockets so far.

"The question is more: If Hezbollah knew what the consequences of their attack would be, would they nevertheless have done it? I don't think so."

"They are beaten but it is not possible to completely destroy them. Israel has nevertheless been more successful than any other country in the battle against a guerrilla organisation."

Convoy attacked

The UN said it was still seeking details but it believed a missile hit a van, killing two civilians, as it drove just in front of its convoy carrying humanitarian aid to the southern port city of Tyre.

Robin Lodge, a spokesman for the World Food Programme, said: "What we're hearing is that it was about 20 metres ahead of our convoy, but it is yet to be confirmed.

"We can't get in touch with our convoy leader because he is out of radio contact. We're trying to get more details."

Aid workers have complained that Israeli airstrikes have made it almost impossible to reach the estimated 800,000 to one million people displaced by the nearly month-old conflict.