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Israeli Security Cabinet Plans Call-Up of Reserves

There has been a lull in the ground fighting in southern Lebanon, where Israeli troops have sustained heavy casualties in battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in two villages near the border. Israel's security Cabinet, meeting in Jerusalem to assess the situation, authorized another call-up of army reserves.

But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also decided against any expansion of ground operations in Lebanon.

Israeli military sources say army commanders are pushing for a large-scale ground invasion as the only way to get rid of the hundreds of Hezbollah guerillas, who are holed up in south Lebanon towns like Bint Jbail. But Olmert refused, at least for now. The prime minister insists that artillery fire, airstrikes and pinpoint ground incursions are achieving Israel's goals.

But Israeli analysts say the decision to call up more reserves is the first step toward a larger ground operation. And some military analysts, like former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, say a ground invasion may be the only way to defeat Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Army commanders insist they have not been surprised by how well-trained and equipped the Hezbollah guerrillas are. But it has been a surprise to many ordinary Israelis. On Wednesday, Israeli forces suffered nine dead and more than 20 wounded near the town of Bint Jbail.

When the war started, many Israelis thought Hezbollah would be routed in a matter of days. But more than two weeks into the campaign, it's not clear whether Hezbollah's operational capability has even been significantly damaged.

But popular support for the war is still running strong in Israel. A poll taken before Wednesday's casualties were announced found that 82 percent of Israelis wanted the fighting to continue until Hezbollah is defeated -- and 77 percent approved of how Olmert was handling the war.

Supporters included the families of soldiers killed in the fighting. Ami Shreier, whose 21-year-old son was killed in combat Wednesday, said the war against Hezbollah must continue.

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Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.