Sunday, August 13, 2006

Annan says Lebanon fighting to end but Israel pushes assault

Yahoo! News
Annan says Lebanon fighting to end but Israel pushes assault

by Jihad SiqlawiSun Aug 13, 7:10 AM ET

Israel carried out waves of deadly bombing raids on Lebanon, flattening homes, bridges and setting petrol stations ablaze even after UN chief Kofi Annan said a ceasefire in the devastating month-old war would take effect on Monday.

And as the Israeli government met to give its verdict on the UN ceasefire resolution, thousands of Israeli troops pressed on with a bloody ground offensive to rout Hezbollah from a large swathe of land in southern Lebanon.

Annan said Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed that a cessation of hostilities will enter into force at 0500 GMT on Monday, following a UN Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Friday after protracted diplomatic wrangling.

"Preferably, the fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through," Annan said Sudnay.

The Lebanese government on Saturday approved the Resolution 1701 -- albeit with reservations -- while Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his Shiite Muslim movement would abide by an agreed ceasefire but also vowed to continue fighting as long as Israeli troops remained on Lebanese soil.

The worst cross-border conflict in a quarter century has killed more than 1,100 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and at least 151 Israelis, most of them soldiers, and laid waste to much of Lebanon's infrastructure.

Israel's cabinet was meeting Sunday to give its verdict on the resolution, which calls for a full cessations of hostilities and the deployment of a 15,000-strong international force in southern Lebanon.

But with Hezbollah vowing to fight until the last Israeli soldier leaves Lebanon and Israel stressing that it will respond to any attack on its troops or rocket fire, hopes of complete ceasefire in the immediate future looked dim.

Israel's massive assault involving 30,000 troops was continuing after the killing of 24 soldiers in its highest single-day death toll of the conflict, and troops were clashing with guerrillas near the southern port city of Tyre.

Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television reported that another seven Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday but this was not confirmed by the Israeli army.

In what the media have said is the largest ground operation since the 1973 Middle East war, Israel is sweeping through south Lebanon where Hezbollah is rooted -- some troops reaching the strategic Litani River which runs as far as 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border.

Fighter jets also pounded targets in the south, east and north of Lebanon, and at least 11 civilians were killed, including a mother and her three children, Lebanese police said.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres sought to put a postive spin on the war's outcome despite the failure to stem the hail of Hezbollah rockets on the north of the country, which killed a 70-year-old man on Sunday.

"I think that we have finished more or less the victors both militarily and politically," Peres told army radio, predicting that Hezbollah would end with "its tail between its legs."

Trade Minister Eli Yishai also issued a stark warning to Lebanon even if the ceasefire comes into force, saying: "If a single stone is thrown at Israel from whatever village that happens, it should be turned into a pile of stones."

In Tyre, warplanes bombed five petrol stations, sparking a huge fire that threatened to engulf a nearby hospital.

"The flames are lashing the building, our ill and wounded patients are threatened with smoke inhalation," hospital director Jawad Najm told AFP. "Nobody has come to help. Not the firefighters, not neighbours."

Fierce clashes between Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops continued through the night southeast of Tyre, on the outskirts of the bombed-out militant stronghold of Khiam.

The International Committee of the Red Cross slammed the continuing heavy civilian casualties as unacceptable.

"It is unacceptable that after more than 30 days of ongoing military operations, all necessary precautions to spare civilian life and those engaged in medical work have still not been taken," the agency said.

In addition to the heavy death toll in Lebanon, more than 900,000 people have been displaced by Israeli bombardments that have left much of the country's infrastructure in ruins.

The Israeli general in charge of the northern command said he hoped troops involved in the expanded offensive will have secured control of most of south Lebanon by Monday.

"I think we will be in a much better situation (on Monday) than we are today," General Udi Adam said. "Assuming that the ceasefire will take effect, we will stop the moment we are told. If it doesn't, we could continue."

The Litani has served as a tactical boundary for Israel's operations in Lebanon since it first invaded its northern neighbour in 1978, leading to a long and bloody occupation that ended only six years ago.

The UN resolution, drafted by the United States and France, calls for all Israeli troops to withdraw from southern Lebanon after an end to the fighting.

It also calls for the release of the two captive Israeli soldiers whose seizure on July 12 triggered the conflict, and for a solution to the issue of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

The resolution authorizes an increase in the current UN Interim Force in Lebanon's strength to a maximum of 15,000 troops from about 1,990 now. They will be matched by the 15,000 troops Lebanon plans to send to the south.

While approving the resolution, the Lebanese cabinet expressed reservations that it did not go far enough in condemning the large-scale Israeli destruction and that it failed to address the issue of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms.

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