Israel calls up reserves

    The Israeli army said Friday that it has called up more reserve
    troops to augment its current forces in northern Israel, widening
    speculation that a major ground offensive against Lebanon has moved
    beyond the planning stage.

    The army said the call-up was issued in the morning and that several
    hundred, if not thousands, of soldiers were being told gather at
    specific meeting points for deployment northward.

    The exact number was not disclosed, but a military source, speaking
    on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
    information, said it likely would be slightly less than
    brigade-strength. The size of a brigade varies from army to army, but
    typically ranges from 1,500 to 3,500 troops.

    The decision came amid Israeli efforts to warn residents of an
    approximately 20-mile wide area of southern Lebanon to evacuate
    immediately.

    Top Israeli officials met Thursday night to decide how big a force
    to send in, according to senior military officials. They said Israel
    won’t stop its offensive until Hezbollah is forced behind the Litani
    River, 20 miles north of the border — creating a new buffer zone in a
    region that Israel occupied for 18 years until 2000.

    In the day, at least a half dozen Israeli troops have been killed in
    pitched battles with Hezbollah militants and an Israeli helicopter
    pilot was killed when two Apache attack helicopters collided.

    © 2006 The Associated Press