Sunday, August 13, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah Approve Middle East Cease-Fire + Hezbollah Leader Agrees to Cease-Fire

Israel and Hezbollah Approve Middle East Cease-Fire
The Associated Press
Sunday 13 August 2006

24-0 vote comes a day after Lebanon approval; truce to take effect Monday.

Jerusalem - Israel's Cabinet approved the U.N. cease-fire plan Sunday, clearing a key hurdle to ending the month long Middle East war.

The 24-0 vote, with one abstention, came a day after the Lebanese government approved the agreement. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave his grudging consent but warned "the war has not ended."

The truce was to take effect on Monday morning, but the potential for new flareups remained high.

The vote came as some 30,000 Israeli troops fought heavy battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in a last-minute push deeper into Lebanon, and a day after 24 soldiers were killed in the highest Israeli toll of the monthlong war.

Israeli warplanes pounded targets across Lebanon on Sunday, killing at least five people, while Hezbollah guerrillas fired rockets at northern Israel, killing one person and injuring at least seven.

The cease-fire was to go into effect at 8 a.m. Beirut time Monday (1 a.m. EDT). Some 15,000 Lebanese troops and an equal number of U.N. forces are to deploy in coming days in south Lebanon and create a buffer zone between the border with Israel and the Litani River.

High Potential for More Clashes

Israeli troops will remain in Lebanon until Lebanese troops deploy there, and Israel's weekend push to the Litani River, some 18 miles from the border, meant scores of Hezbollah fighters were caught behind Israeli lines. Israel said it hoped Lebanese troops will start deploying quickly, within a week or two.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told ministers he met with the families of two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hezbollah provoked the war, and said he hoped they would be freed. The U.N. truce plan, however, is not linked to the soldiers' release.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that while Israel has to learn lessons from the war, "in my view, we came out of this with the upper hand, both politically and military."

Misgivings in Israel

The cease-fire's approval comes despite widespread misgivings in Israel about its terms. The deal was seen at best as a draw with Hezbollah, and some felt Israel - unable to subdue a guerrillas force - had lost.

Military experts and commentators said neither the Lebanese army nor U.N. forces could be counted on to challenge Hezbollah or force Iran-supplied guerrillas to disarm.

The deal buys a period of calm, at best, and sets the region up for the next war with Hezbollah, critics said. The truce will be "a time-out until the next confrontation, and maybe not even this," commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily.

The Cabinet session was overshadowed by rising Israeli casualties. Twenty-four soldiers were killed Saturday, and at least 73 wounded.

Hezbollah appeared to be fighting as fiercely as ever. The guerrillas shot down an Israeli helicopter for the first time in the war, killing five crew members. Other troops were killed by Hezbollah anti-tank missiles. The army said it killed more than 50 Hezbollah fighters.

The violence has claimed more than 900 lives: at least 763 in Lebanon - mostly civilians- and 147 Israelis, including 109 soldiers. On Saturday, 19 Lebanese civilians were killed in Israeli air raids, one of which blasted a highway near the last open border crossing to Syria.

The big expansion of Israel troop strength, including the army's biggest airlift of soldiers since the 1973 Middle East war, prompted Nasrallah to declare the fight far from finished. "The war has not ended. There have been continued strikes and continued casualties," he said Saturday.

Lebanon's Cabinet said Israel's military push presented a "flagrant challenge" to the international community after the U.N. resolution was issued.

An Israeli missile destroyed a building in the southern Lebanese coastal city of Tyre on Sunday, killing a woman, her three children and the family's housekeeper, security officials said.

Missile Kills One in Northern Israel

In northern Israel, a Hezbollah rocket hit a house in the town of Shlomi killing, killing one person and wounding two others. Five other people were hurt in rocket barrages throughout northern Israel, rescue services said.

President Bush had an 8-minute phone call Saturday with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to discuss the truce. The White House said it is determined to vanquish the hold of Hezbollah - and that of its Syrian and Iranian benefactors - on the south.

"These steps are designed to stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state, and put an end to Iran and Syria's efforts to hold the Lebanese people hostage to their own extremist agenda," Bush said.

The anti-Syrian Saniora, whose government was extremely weak when the fighting began, appears to have emerged from the crisis considerably strengthened.

He prevailed in his insistence that policing of the cease-fire be done by Lebanese soldiers alongside an expanded U.N. force rather than by an ad hoc assembly of international troops, possibly from NATO.

French President Jacques Chirac has said his country was ready to contribute troops to the U.N. force. Other countries, including Italy and New Zealand, also have offered soldiers.

Hezbollah Leader Agrees to Cease-Fire

By Bruce Wallace and Tracy Wilkinson
The Los Angeles Times

Saturday 12 August 2006

Beirut, Lebanon - Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and the Lebanese Cabinet agreed Saturday to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire aimed at stopping more than a month of fighting between Israel and the militant group. Israel also signaled it would accept the truce, even as it tripled the number of its combat forces inside Lebanon.

"This resistance is a reaction and whenever the hostile Israeli acts will stop, we will stop our retaliatory acts," Nasrallah said in a televised address on Hezbollah's TV network. But he also warned that the shooting won't stop: "We in Lebanon should be vigilant and not think that the war is over."

After a Cabinet meeting described by some participants as "heated," the Lebanese government said it reluctantly agreed to the resolution's provisions, which include a reinforced United Nations military presence in the country's south.

Israel's Cabinet will meet to vote on the resolution Sunday. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni predicted approval, saying, "The cease-fire is a U.N. decision, and Israel intends to agree to it."

Although Livni said her country's forces would halt their deadly northward drive Monday, Israel's top military commander promised to fight Hezbollah militants there for at least another week.

Israeli officials indicated that 30,000 Israeli troops were operating across the border. Hundreds of paratroopers were walking into the southern hills of Lebanon on Saturday, and hundreds more were being airlifted farther into Lebanese territory in a massive helicopter operation, witnesses and military officials said.

**doesn't sound like they're leaving, does it?**

It was Israel's biggest troop airlift since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with heavy fighting reported around the Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as smaller towns such as Marjayoun, which Israel previously said it controlled.

It was uncertain how long Israel planned to continue its push north. The U.N. resolution calls on Israel to "halt all offensive operations," but many of the troops appeared to be carrying enough gear for a longer stay.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the military chief of staff, said it would likely take at least a week to learn the operational details of the U.N. resolution -- especially how the existing 2,000-member U.N. observer force will be converted into a more robust 15,000-strong contingent that will have the authority to make southern Lebanon a weapons-free zone.

Troops from France, Italy and Turkey are expected to make up the backbone of the bolstered U.N. force. The Security Council wants the troops to support the 15,000 soldiers from the Lebanese army who will move into southern Lebanon as Israel withdraws.

"Until then, we have to stay," Halutz told reporters gathered under camouflage netting at an army base near the town of Rosh Pina. He said Israel would use the time to continue to attack Hezbollah rockets, rocket launchers and infrastructure.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces sharp criticism from many Israelis who argue that a halt to the fighting now leaves Hezbollah within rocket range of northern Israel. Hezbollah fired 65 rockets into northern Israeli border towns Saturday, although Israeli officers noted that was a lower daily count than usual and said the penetration of the strikes was not as deep.

The cross-border incursion continues to cost Israel steep casualties. An Israeli helicopter was shot down in southern Lebanon; the Israeli government did not reveal a death toll from the incident, but it acknowledged the deaths of seven other Israeli soldiers and 70 wounded in fighting Saturday.

The Israelis said their troops killed 40 Hezbollah fighters, a claim Hezbollah denied.

Israeli airstrikes also hit more than 80 targets across Lebanon, killing at least 20 people, Lebanese officials said. Fifteen people, many of them elderly, were killed when a house was destroyed in the town of Rshaf.

Israeli planes also continued to squeeze Lebanon's links with the outside world, bombing the last significant road connection to Syria. The bombing all but shut Lebanon off from major shipments from Syria, one of Hezbollah's primary backers.

Ambulances and trucks loaded with cargo languished on the Syrian side of the Arida border crossing. The already pockmarked two-lane road, leading south along the Mediterranean coast into northern Lebanon, was apparently struck by at least two missiles.

The deteriorating conditions were one factor pushing the Lebanese government toward accepting the U.N.'s conditions for a cease-fire. Lebanon's Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, approved the truce despite bitterness over the continuing Israeli offensive and uncertainty about whether the resolution allowed for Hezbollah to maintain arms in southern Lebanon.

Prime Minister Faoud Siniora condemned what he said was Israel's "free rein" to continue defensive operations, saying it had raised doubts among some Lebanese politicians about the merits of abiding by the Security Council's orders.

But others argue that having inflicted more damage on Israeli forces than expected, Hezbollah was strategically wise to halt the fighting at this stage.

"Yes, there has been support for Hezbollah during this crisis, but even if they don't say it, people blame Hezbollah, too, for some of the destruction," said Farid el Khazen, a Lebanese legislator. "It is the right decision to stop now. None of the parties has emerged from this war undamaged."

But there is also widespread agreement that Hezbollah's surprising performance against a vastly superior Israeli military machine has dramatically boosted Nasrallah's political standing in Lebanon.

"Nasrallah can stop now with the look and image of a hero," said Fadia Kiwan, a political scientist at Beirut's St. Joseph University. "Hezbollah has won this war because they resisted the Israeli machine longer than thought possible."


Wallace reported from Beirut and Wilkinson from northern Israel. Times staff writers Borzou Daragahi in Arida, Lebanon and Henry Chu in Jerusalem and special correspondent Maha Al Azar in Beirut contributed to this report.

No comments: