BEIRUT Aug 12 (AP): Israeli warplanes launched wide-ranging airstrikes and sent commandos into the Hezbollah heartland Saturday as officials raced to turn a U.N. cease-fire blueprint into action. The raids killed at least 15 people in one village and blasted a highway near the last open border crossing to Syria.
Israel appeared ready to keep up a full-scale campaign until the U.N. plan works its way through political chambers. Lebanese officials have signaled that formal backing could come Saturday. Israel could give its approval Sunday.
Then another tense phase would begin: trying to rapidly mobilize a credible peacekeeping force combining beefed-up U.N. troops alongside Lebanese units. The contingent, which could number around 30,000 soldiers, would stand between Israel and the Hezbollah militia.
Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said Israel has nearly tripled the number of forces in Lebanon and expects to fight for another week despite the cease-fire deal. He said Israeli forces - apparently about 30,0000 now - would stay in Lebanon until an international force arrives.
Israel has demanded an airtight buffer zone and wonders if U.N. and Lebanese forces are up for the task. A small U.N. military presence - now about 2,000 soldiers - have been in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon since 1978 and have been overwhelmed by the Islamic group's rising power, aided by Iran and Syria.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice specifically cited Hezbollah's two sponsors in a statement Friday for all parties to "respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community."
Israeli military correspondents reported at least 30 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the advance and Israeli forces suffered casualties, but specific figures were not immediately given.
The Litani is seen by Israel as a crucial boundary in its attempt to push back Hezbollah. Israel has repeatedly insisted that the proposed peacekeeping force cannot allow Hezbollah weapons south of the river
Israeli aircraft staged dawn raids Saturday against four roads leading to Syria in Lebanon's northern Akkar plain, police said.
The raids were the first since the UN Security Council adopted late Friday a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah militants.
Israeli warplanes bombarded the coastal road 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Tripoli, northern Lebanon's major city, to the Syrian border post at Abde, said police.
Israeli aircraft also fired missiles at a secondary road near the key bridge on the Akkar plain they destroyed on Friday, killing 11 civilians.
The two other attacks targeted roads further east used by smugglers.