- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council late yesterday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an end to the war fighting between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and authorizing 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help an equal number of Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon as Israel withdraws.

The resolution offers the best chance yet for peace after more than four weeks of fighting that has killed more than 800 people, destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and inflamed tensions across the Middle East.

The document was drafted by France and the United States was the product of bargaining that took into consideration, in part, the wishes of both Israel and Lebanon.

Earlier in the day Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution after a day of brinksmanship that included a threat to expand the ground war.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Lebanese government assured her that it supported the text.

The next point of contention will be when to implement the cessation of hostilities. Israel said its campaign would continue until tomorrow, when its Cabinet will meet to endorse the resolution.

In the meantime, long columns of Israeli tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers streamed over the border into Lebanon early today.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials as soon as possible to determine the exact date of a cease-fire.

Miss Rice said the “hard work of diplomacy” was only beginning with the passage of the resolution and that it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence. She said the United States would increase its assistance to Lebanon to $50 million, and demanded other nations stop interfering in its affairs.

“Today we call upon every state, especially Iran and Syria, to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community,” Miss Rice told the council. Iran and Syria back Hezbollah and supply it with rockets and other weapons.

With tough language in remarks before the vote, Mr. Annan said hundreds of millions of people around the world shared his frustration that the council had taken so long to act.

That inaction has “badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity,” he said.

The council resolution leaves out several key demands from both Israel and Lebanon in efforts to come up with a workable arrangement.

Despite Lebanese objections, Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations — a term that Arab diplomats fear the Israeli military will interpret broadly. A dispute over the Shebaa Farms area along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border will be left for later, and Israel won’t get its wish for an entirely new multinational force separate from the U.N. forces, known as UNIFIL, that have been stationed in south Lebanon since 1978.

Lebanon’s acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, suggested that his nation would accept the resolution, though he said its call for a cessation of fighting could not be implemented. He criticized it for allowing Israel to continue some operations.

“A cease-fire that by its terms cannot be implemented is no cease-fire,” Mr. Mitri said. “A cease-fire that retains the right for one side the right not to cease firing is not a cease-fire.”

There is also no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or a demand for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Although the draft resolution emphasizes the need for the “unconditional release” of the two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hezbollah sparked the conflict, that call is not included in the list of steps required for a lasting cease-fire.

At the heart of the resolution are two elements: It seeks an immediate halt to the fighting that began when Hezbollah militants kidnapped the Israeli soldiers along the Blue Line, the U.N.-demarcated border separating Israel and Lebanon; and it spells out a series of steps that would lead to a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution.

That would be done by creating a new buffer zone in south Lebanon “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL.” The U.N. force now has 2,000 troops; the resolution would expand it to a maximum of 15,000.

South Lebanon had been under de facto control of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militia, for several years until Israeli forces occupied parts of it after the start of the fighting last month. The political solution would include implementation of previous Security Council resolutions calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament.

Israel is chiefly concerned that Hezbollah not be allowed to regain its strength in south Lebanon once a cessation of hostilities goes into effect. It had originally demanded the creation of a new multinational force separate from UNIFIL, which it claimed was powerless.

Several diplomats said UNIFIL would essentially become so strong that it will not resemble the weaker force it once was.

The resolution gives Mr. Annan one week to report back on how well it has been implemented.

Diplomats at the U.N. said the adoption of the resolution must spur them to solve the wider conflict in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians. The Lebanon fighting has overshadowed the turmoil there, caused by the capture of an Israeli soldier on June 25.

Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani said that in the coming days Arab states would submit formal requests for a Security Council meeting in September to hammer out a new regional peace plan.

In the fighting in south Lebanon yesterday, Israeli aircraft fired rockets at a convoy of hundreds of cars carrying people fleeing the combat zone, killing at least seven and wounding 36, witnesses and medical sources told the Reuters news agency

The Israeli army confirmed it carried out an air strike on the convoy, saying it had acted on the mistaken suspicion Hezbollah guerrillas were smuggling weapons in the vehicles.

“The attack was carried out based on a suspicion. It was found to be incorrect,” an army spokeswoman said. The army said it had not granted permission for the convoy.

Associated Press reporters Karin Laub in Jerusalem, Paul Burkhardt at the United Nations and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this story.

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