Israel will keep fighting Hizbullah gunmen in south Lebanon until a strong international force is deployed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in am interview with news agencies on Wednesday.
Olmert said he wanted the peacekeepers to have a mandate that would include enforcing a UN resolution calling for the disarmament of Hizbullah, adding that Israel's offensive had already "entirely destroyed" the group's infrastructure.
"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.
Asked if that meant Israel would carry on fighting until then, Olmert said "yes."
"We are trying to push, more and more, the Hizbullah from where they were and to open up for the international force to take over, and the sooner the better," Olmert said.
"I think it has to be, as President Bush said, a robust force made up of combat units that are prepared to force the implementation of resolution 1559 on Lebanon entirely, starting with the south part of Lebanon."
The resolution calls for the disarmament of militias in Lebanon.
'No deal over kidnapped soldiers'
Olmert said that Israel would not make any deal for the return of two soldiers whose capture by Hizbullah on July 12 triggered an Israeli offensive that has killed at least 644 people in Lebanon. Fifty-four Israelis have died.
"I remind you that the resolution of the G8 and the international community and all the other countries was that the two Israeli abducted soldiers must be returned unconditionally and I think this is fair and just," He said.
"I expect the Israeli soldiers to be returned unconditionally."
Israeli commandos seized several Hizbullah gunmen early on Tuesday on a raid into the group's stronghold of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon. Olmert did not say when they would be released.
"It's too early, they have to get used to being in Israeli custody," He said.
The prime minister also predicted that the outcome of the Lebanon fighting will create "new momentum" for Israel's plan to separate from the Palestinians by withdrawing from much of the West Bank. He had harsh words for Syrian leaders, calling them "reckless," "immature," and promoters of terror.