JERUSALEM: Israel is pouring thousands of ground troops into southern Lebanon with the aim of creating a buffer zone there until the arrival of a multinational force, the military and observers said on Thursday.
Up to 10,000 ground troops were battling Hezbollah around more than a dozen villages in south Lebanon on Thursday with the aim of clearing the area of Hezbollah fighters, Tzvika Golan, a spokesman for Israel's northern command said.
The troops were to establish a "security zone" six to eight kilometres (four to five miles) deep along Lebanon's border with Israel in order to "push Hezbollah further north," he said.
Israeli media reported that the army had been told to establish the zone by the end of the day on Thursday.
General Gai Tzurn, one of Israel's top military commanders in the Lebanon offensive, denied that the security buffer would mirror the one that Israel held in southern Lebanon between 1985 and 2000.
That zone reached eight to 15 kilometres inside Lebanon along 100 kilometres of the border.
"Our aim is to put in place a mobile presence and we don't have any intention of installing ourselves in fixed positions on the ground," he told army radio.
"The IDF has still not decided how it will control the new security zone until the arrival of international forces: by means of a physical ground presence that would place soldiers' lives in jeopardy, or by means of firepower and lookout positions," Israel's largest daily, Yediot Ahoronot, wrote on Thursday.
Israel wants international troops to be deployed along its volatile border with Lebanon, a stronghold of the Shiite militant group that has launched more than 2,000 rockets at the Jewish state since the start of the Lebanon conflict.
On Wednesday, a single-day record of 231 rockets fired by Hezbollah slammed across northern Israel, killing one person and wounding several dozen, one of them seriously, according to police and rescue services.
Hezbollah rockets have killed 19 civilians since the start of the conflict on July 12, sparked by Hezbollah cross-border raids during which the Shiite militants killed eight Israeli soldiers and seized another two.
Israel occupied a part of south Lebanon from 1985 to 2000, when it withdrew from the area after a Hezbollah-led guerrilla campaign and a rising death toll among its soldiers.
Aware of the public aversion caused by the 18-year occupation, Israeli leaders have repeatedly said that the offensive launched on Hezbollah 23 days ago would not lead the Jewish state to the same "Lebanese quagmire."
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has had troops in south Lebanon for 28 years, but is largely powerless militarily, and Israel wants a beefed-up force of 15,000 troops to replace it.
"It has to be made up of armies, not of retirees, of real soldiers, not of pensioners who have come to spend leisurely months in south Lebanon, but, rather, an army with combat units that is prepared to implement the UN resolution," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published on Thursday.