Backed by warplanes and tanks, Israeli ground troops pushed deeper into Lebanon on Saturday, reaching Ghanduriya, 11km north of the border.
The broad offensive comes despite a unanimous UN Security Council call for an end to the one-month old war. The offensive is expected to reach as far as the strategic Litani River, 20km from the border.
An Israeli army spokesman said: “In line with Wednesday’s decision by the security cabinet, the army has launched a ground operation in south Lebanon which is expected to extend up to the Litani River.”
Israel’s top general, Dan Halutz, told reporters on Saturday that Israel “will continue to operate until we achieve our aims”.
“In order to ensure a ceasefire you need two [parties]. Once the agreement will be completed in all the details, then we will be able to decide when the ceasefire will be implemented.”
Israeli combat jets were also in action across other parts of Lebanon, pounding northern roads leading to Syria and destroying a power plant in the major southern city of Sidon. The city is likely to be without power for 10 days.
Fifteen of the latest victims of the war were killed or injured when fighter-bombers hit a village near the southern port city of Tyre, police said.
Troops in tanks and armoured vehicles were rolling towards hilltops overlooking the Litani where they were meeting with resistance from Hezbollah fighters, Lebanese police said.
The Litani has served as a strategic limit for Israel’s operations in Lebanon since it first invaded its northern neighbour in 1978.
Attacks on Baalbek
Aljazeera’s correspondent in the Bekaa Valley said one person had been killed and 12 others injured in 10 Israeli air raids in the space of an hour on Baalbek and the surrounding villages on Saturday.
He said that, unlike previous attacks on Baalbek, the strikes targeted residential areas and had hit a building containing clinics, shops and houses. Other strikes have damaged the old market in the city.
Previous strikes had hit roads, trucks and petrol stations.
Also under Israeli fire were the villages and towns of Tlaile, Taraya, Janata and Marabun, near Baalbek.
Meanwhile, at least four Hezbollah rockets were fired into northern Israel, causing two casualties, Israeli police said.
Aljazeera reported that four Israeli soldiers were also killed and 23 others wounded in clashes with Hezbollah in south Lebanon on Saturday.
There was no confirmation from the Israeli army.
Late on Friday the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah and the deployment of a 15,000-strong international force in Lebanon.