- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s defense minister said yesterday that he is certain Hezbollah will not break the cease-fire, but warned all militant groups of harsh measures and a traitor’s fate if they incite Israeli retaliation by firing rockets into the Jewish state.

Defense Minister Elias Murr’s strong remarks indicated concern that Syrian-backed militants will try to restart the fighting by drawing retaliation from Israel.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, meanwhile, toured the devastated Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut and decried the destruction by Israeli bombs as a “crime against humanity.” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi’ite and Hezbollah backer, stood at the Sunni prime minister’s side and said they spoke with one voice.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state should not participate in the international peacekeeping force along the Lebanese border.

Mr. Olmert also said he would name a panel to investigate the military and government’s performance during the war, which has been criticized by many Israelis as weak and indecisive.

A day after Israeli commandos staged a pre-dawn raid deep into Lebanon — prompting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to declare the Israelis in violation of the Security Council cease-fire resolution — no new clashes were reported.

Residents in the mountains east of Beirut, however, described continued overflights by Israeli warplanes on the truce’s seventh day.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Saturday’s raid in the town of Boudai was aimed at disrupting arms shipments to Hezbollah and that such operations may continue until international peacekeepers arrive to enforce an arms embargo.

“In the situation where there was a flagrant violation of the embargo, Israel had the right to act. Had there not been a violation, Israel would not have to respond,” he said yesterday, expressing impatience with the slow international response in offering troops for the peacekeeping force.

Siding with Jerusalem, the U.S. government also said the Israeli raid underscored the importance of quickly deploying an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

Townspeople in Boudai said 300 residents grabbed guns after the Israeli raid began at 3 a.m. and fought beside 15 Hezbollah guerrillas for 90 minutes before the commandos retreated and were flown back to Israel. Residents said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side. One Israeli officer was killed, and two soldiers were wounded.

The Lebanese defense minister said Hezbollah would not retaliate.

“We consider that when [Hezbollah] is committed not to fire rockets, then any rocket that is fired from the Lebanese territory would be considered collaboration with Israel to provide a pretext [for Israel] to strike,” Mr. Murr said.

He added that “the Lebanese army will decisively deal with” any attack on Israel and that anyone arrested for violating the truce “will be considered by the military tribunal as an agent of the Israeli enemy.”

Under the U.N. cease-fire that took effect a week ago today, Lebanon has started deploying 15,000 soldiers to its southern region, putting a government force there for the first time in four decades.

It is to be joined by an equal force of international peacekeepers, but few countries have volunteered troops.

France, which commands the existing U.N. force in Lebanon, called yesterday for European Union countries to meet this week to determine how many troops they are prepared to contribute.

The effort is complicated by Mr. Olmert’s decision to reject peacekeepers from countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh — Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel — are among the only countries so far to have offered front-line troops for the expanded force.

The U.N. cease-fire resolution does not explicitly give Israel authority to block countries from joining the peacekeeping mission, but it does say the force should coordinate its activities with the Lebanese and Israeli governments.

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