- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Israeli warplanes pummeled Lebanese infrastructure Monday, killing at least 17 people.

Hezbollah patron Iran said a cease-fire and a prisoner swap were possible, and the international community signaled willingness to send peacekeepers to back a diplomatic solution.

A senior official in the Israeli government said Monday that the country would agree to a cease-fire against Hezbollah if the Lebanese guerrillas withdraw from the border area with Israel and release two captured Israeli soldiers.

The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy, said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had conveyed Israel’s position to Italy’s prime minister, who is trying to broker a cease-fire deal.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, fired rockets that flew farther into Israel than ever before, while Israel said it had briefly sent ground forces into southern Lebanon for the first time in its six-day-old offensive in escalating violence.

Western leaders stepped up efforts on the diplomatic front, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for the deployment of international forces to southern Lebanon.

President Bush bluntly expressed his frustration with the actions of Hezbollah, suggesting Syria could use its influence with the guerrillas. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would consider contributing troops, and the European Union announced it was weighing a peacekeeping force as well.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said a cease-fire and a prisoner swap would be “an acceptable and fair” deal to resolve the conflict. “In fact, there can be a cease-fire followed by a prisoner swap,” he said after talks with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.

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