The Israeli Prime Minister told United Nations envoys, trying to broker a ceasefire, that its offensive would continue until Hezbollah releases its two soldiers and rocket attacks end.

"Israel will continue the battle against Hezbollah and will continue to strike targets belonging to the group until it obtains the release of its captured soldiers and restores the security of Israeli citizens,"  Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying in a statement following talks with the UN team.

Earlier, Israel’s deputy army chief, Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, told Army Radio: "The fighting in Lebanon will end within a few weeks. We will not take months.

"We need more time to complete our very clear goals. When we fight terror it is a war that needs to be very accurate, very schematic and it takes time.

"Hezbollah has a very large system of different types of rockets. The [group] still has an ability to fire at the north and residents still feel this. We will do everything to shorten this suffering."

He added that a ground invasion into Lebanon had been considered. "At this stage we do not think we have to activate massive ground forces into Lebanon but if we have to do this, we will. We are not ruling it out," Kaplinsky said.

Israeli aircraft also struck Beirut’s southern suburbs, the northern city of Tripoli as well as two Lebanese army barracks in the Jumhur and Kafar Shima areas early on Tuesday. Lebanon’s army has, so far, tried to remain on the sidelines of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Television footage showed balls of fire and clouds of smoke billowing from a Lebanese army position east of Beirut.  Eleven soldiers were killed and thirty were wounded, a security source said.