(AP) - Israel pounded suspected Hezbollah positions across Lebanon on Thursday, extending its air campaign a day after suffering its highest one-day casualty toll since its military offensive began. An Israeli Cabinet minister said lack of agreement on a cease-fire gave Israel permission to press deeper to wipe out the Islamic militant group.
The airstrikes also hit a Lebanese army base and a radio relay station and destroyed several roads. The series of raids in northern, eastern and southern Lebanon, which killed at least one person and wounded others, came as the Israeli government was to meet Thursday to decide whether to broaden the offensive, now in its third week, against Hezbollah guerrillas, reports Trend.
On Wednesday, a high-level Mideast conference in Rome ended in disagreement, with most European leaders urging an immediate cease-fire, but the U.S. willing to give Israel more time to punish the guerrilla group.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Israel interprets this as a green light to continue its offensive.
"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world ... to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed," he told Israel Army Radio. "Everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror."
The call for greater firepower came after Israel suffered its heaviest casualty toll
in a single battle in the 16-day campaign, with nine soldiers killed and 25 wounded in house-to-house fighting in Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon on Wednesday.
The crisis began July 12 when Hezbollah fighters staged a cross-border attack that led to the deaths of eight Israeli soldiers and left two captured.
Israeli army commanders have said troops would seize additional towns and villages in south Lebanon to force out Hezbollah gunmen.
In the first apparent ramification of the killing of four U.N. observers by an Israeli airstrike earlier this week, Australia decided to withdraw 12 unarmed logistics specialists who had been sent to southern Lebanon to help with evacuation efforts. It also said it would not support a new international force in southern Lebanon unless it had the strength and will to disarm Hezbollah, Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday.
Earlier this month, Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson backed participation of Australian troops in a new U.N. Middle East peacekeeping mission, but on Thursday, he seemed to rule out any major contribution.
"I would be surprised if Australia were to be committing a significant number of troops to this area," Nelson said.
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terror, has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes struck a road in Rayak, a few miles from the Lebanese-Syrian border early Thursday, wounding two soldiers and a civilian, Lebanese officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make statements to the media.
Israeli fighter jets also carried out more than 30 bombing runs in Iqlim al Tuffah, a highland region where Hezbollah is believed to have offices and bases, the officials and witnesses said.
The airstrikes, which targeted mostly deserted houses allegedly belonging to Hezbollah activists and roads linking villages in the region, caused a number of casualties, the officials said. Ambulances and civil defense crews were unable to reach the targeted areas because of intense bombardment, witnesses said.
A Lebanese policeman, Mohammed Abu Hamdan, was killed when an Israeli missile struck his car as he drove in the eastern city of Zahle, security officials said.
At least 423 other people have been killed in Lebanon since the offensive began including 376 civilians reported by the Health Ministry and security officials. The deaths of the soldiers on Wednesday brought to 51 the number of Israelis killed in the campaign, according to the military.
Israeli planes also attacked targets near the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, wounding at least three people.
And a missile hit a four-story building belonging to the Shiite Muslim Amal Movement in the southern port city of Tyre, a day after a strike in the city devastated an empty seven-story building where Hezbollah's top commander in the south has offices. That strike wounded 13 people, including six children, nearby. But a Hezbollah official in Tyre denied Israeli reports that the group's commander in south Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, was killed.
The privately owned Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station said Israeli jets struck the army base at Aamchit, 30 miles north of the Lebanese capital near the coast, and knocked down a relay tower in an adjacent field of antennas belonging to Radio Liban. Israeli military officials said the target of the airstrike was a radar station used by Hezbollah for attacks like the one on an Israeli missile boat July 14 that killed four Israeli soldiers.
Israel said Wednesday that it intends to damage Hezbollah and establish a "security zone" that would be free of the guerrillas and extend more than a mile into Lebanon from the Israeli border. Such a zone would prevent Hezbollah from carrying out more cross-border raids.
Israel said it would maintain such a zone, with firepower or other means, until the arrival of an international force with muscle to be deployed in a wider swath of southern Lebanon as opposed to the U.N. force already there that has failed to prevent the violence.