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Peace deal at UN is clouded by Israeli ambiguity
by UK Guardian (reposted)
Saturday Aug 12th, 2006 8:53 AM
Olmert appears to accept text hours after shocking security council by insisting on going ahead with Lebanon offensive
Julian Borger in Jerusalem, Oliver Burkeman in New York and Ewen MacAskill
Saturday August 12, 2006
The Guardian

Israel's cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide whether to accept the UN security council's ceasefire resolution, but until then the government made clear its troops would continue to advance into Lebanon.

In an apparent gambit to win time for the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to make gains on the battlefield, the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, signalled last night that he would recommend acceptance of the peace plan, but would not act on it until tommorrow's meeting.

The delay seemed likely to cause anger on the world stage, and trigger a Hizbullah response that would make imposing a ceasefire even harder. But Israeli officials insisted that the move was justified as Hizbullah rockets continued to fall on northern Israeli towns yesterday.

Mr Olmert had ordered the launch of an all-out ground offensive only a few hours before the UN vote was taken, and massed Israeli tanks along the northern border were seen making final preparations to move into southern Lebanon, where they were intended, according to the IDF plan, to advance as much as 30km up to the Litani river.

Despite the UN agreement, Mr Olmert did not call his forces back and IDF officials were quoted in the Haaretz newspaper as saying the offensive would "continue forward with full power" and that all the units assigned to take part in the invasion force had been deployed to forward positions.

The IDF general staff, which has been criticised for failing to suppress Hizbullah rocket fire in the first month of fighting, is determined to inflict more damage on the Shia militia before a halt is called. A failure to neutralise Hizbullah would widely be seen as a military defeat inside Israel.

According to the New York Times, Israel has asked the US to supply the IDF with short range anti-personnel rockets which scatter fragmentation grenades over a wide area. The report said Israel intended to use them against Hizbullah rocket launcher sites, which have so far proved elusive to Israeli artillery.

The report said the delivery of the weapons was likely despite state department concerns that they could cause high civilian casualties.

Just before last night's security council vote, an Israeli government source was quoted as saying: "The various key ministers have voiced satisfaction at the amendments made over the last few hours. For implementation by Israel, this now requires a cabinet vote. The idea is that the military offensive will continue until then."

Israeli government officials said that between Thursday and Friday the version of the peace plan Mr Olmert had initially accepted had been changed significantly in Lebanon's favour, prompting the prime minister's decision to unleash the new ground offensive.

According to the Israelis, the powers of the UN force had been watered down, as had measures for monitoring arms smuggling to Hizbullah across the border from Syria. It was not immediately clear how many concessions Israel succeeded in extracting from the security council, after Mr Olmert's green light for the new offensive.

The resolution artfully avoids any mention of whether the expanded UN force in Lebanon would operate under chapter seven of the UN charter - allowing it to use force to secure peace - or under chapter six, which would make it a monitoring body able to fire only in self-defence.

Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, said the resolution, which does not call explicitly for the disarmament of Hizbullah but calls on Israel and Lebanon to "support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution", was "formally chapter six", but the tough language in the document clearly seems to leave the way open for a more forthright use of arms.

Lebanon had previously balked at the idea of a force that might be authorised to use force to subdue Hizbullah, but the resolution authorises the UN peacekeepers "to take all necessary action ... to ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities of any kind [and] to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties."

A symbolically important preamble paragraph also calls the situation in Lebanon "a threat to international peace and security," in what appears to be a nod to Israel's argument that a settlement is needed that goes beyond an immediate ceasefire.

In a similar vein, it emphasises that all parties "are responsible for ensuring that no action is taken ... that might adversely affect the search for a long-term solution."

The humanitarian crisis is also singled out for attention. The resolution calls on the international community "to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people ... and calls on it to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon."

After the resolution was passed, Britain's prime minister released a supporting statement saying the "passage of the UNSCR is immensely welcome".

Mr Blair continued: "The hostilities on both sides should cease immediately now that the resolution has finally been agreed by the whole of the international community. However, there will continue to be difficulties until it is clear that the combination of Lebanese forces and the UN multi-national force can be effectively deployed in returning control of the south of Lebanon to the Lebanese government. This should start straight away.

"It is essential that all parties exercise the utmost restraint and all those with influence over them urge them to do so.

"... In part, this will be about the ability of the democratically elected Lebanese government to be in sole charge of the Lebanon. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that the conflict in Lebanon arose out of the desire to exploit the continuing impasse in Palestine.,,1843127,00.html
by Haaretz (reposted)
Saturday Aug 12th, 2006 9:00 AM
A UN-brokered cease-fire would go into effect on Monday morning at 7 A.M., a senior Israeli government official said Saturday afternoon.

By then, IDF forces are expected to reach the Litani River, some 30 kilometers inside Lebanon, with the purpose of cutting off Hezbollah forces further south, toward the border with Israel. In the event that the fighting resumes, IDF forces will then be in a position to move more effectively against Hezbollah fighters.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, meanwhile, said late Friday that the expanded incursion into Lebanon would continue "for the time being," despite Israel's agreement to a cease-fire resolution drafted by the United Nations Security Council. The cabinet is expected to vote Sunday on the resolution.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Saturday that Israel would press ahead with its military offensive in south Lebanon until the Cabinet approved the cease-fire deal. "The logic would be that even in the framework of this successful outcome, if you hand over to the Lebanese army a cleaner south Lebanon, a south Lebanon where you have Hezbollah removed from the territory, that makes their [the Lebanese] troubles a lot easier," Regev said.

A government source said Friday that Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed to the UN cease-fire resolution following last-minute changes to the text. "The various key ministers have voiced satisfaction at the amendments made over the last few hours," the source said. "For implementation by Israel, this now requires a cabinet vote. The idea is that the military offensive will continue until then."

Earlier Friday, Olmert issued the order for an expanded ground operation after diplomatic efforts at the UN looked to be faltering. The text which was drafted on Friday is a significantly altered version of Thursday's draft. Lebanon had said it was opposed to a more robust contingent of UNIFIL troops and to granting UNIFIL the authority to enforce the cease-fire.

These points caused more concern to Israel than clauses referring to Shaba Farms and the lack of border supervision against weapons smuggling.

Under these circumstances, the source said, Olmert decided to issue the order for the ground assault while continuing diplomatic negotiations in parallel.

Olmert's spokesman, Asaf Shariv, said that the expanded incursion had already begun. He said that the cease-fire deal being worked out by the Security Council failed to meet Israel's basic requirements, such as stationing a strong force of international combat troops in southern Lebanon once Israel withdraws.

"Yesterday we were very optimistic, but they [the Security Council] took the wrong turn," Shariv said.

Defense sources say that the cease-fire resolution is not ripe, adding that plans had been made for the IDF to push northwards. If significant progress is made on the diplomatic front, they said, the IDF would halt its advance.

Sources also said that restarting military operations could yield more favorable terms for Israel in the cease-fire resolution being discussed at the UN.

The prime minister updated a number of officials in the political echelon of his decision, including President Moshe Katsav, Knesset Speaker MK Dalia Itzik, government ministers, and MKs Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Effi Eitam, and Tzachi Hanegbi.

Olmert thanked U.S. President George W. Bush Friday for his work on the UN Security Council resolution to stop violence between Israel and Hezbollah, the White House said in recounting the first direct talks between the two leaders since the fighting began.

The eight-minute phone call with Bush at his ranch in Texas was initiated by Olmert, said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.

"The president expressed his view that the crisis was provoked by Hezbollah with the support of Iran and Syria and that we need to ensure that the reach of the Lebanese government extends throughout the country," Jones said.