Sunday, August 06, 2006

Israelis should stay in Lebanon: US

Israelis should stay in Lebanon: US | Herald Sun
By Henri Mamarbachi in Beirut

August 06, 2006 05:47am

THE US Middle East envoy has said overnight that he was determined to "put behind us forever" the violence in Lebanon as differences emerged with the Lebanese government over the timetable for a ceasefire.
Visiting Beirut in the midst of bitter Arab criticism of Washington's support for the Israeli offensive, US envoy David Welch told the government that Israeli troops should stay in south Lebanon until a multinational force was in place on the ground, sources said.

"We want to put behind us forever the terrible violence of the last three weeks," the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs told reporters after talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

"Those who lost their homes must be able to return as soon as possible (and)... Lebanon must be reconnected to the outside world," he added, referring to the closure of Lebanon's airport and ports by the Israeli blockade.

He called for "a lasting political framework and an international force to support the Lebanese forces," referring to a multinational force that the United States has requested be deployed in south Lebanon on its border with Israel.

His comments echoed remarks by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has called for a political framework to first be laid down to prevent a return to violence, including bolstering the Lebanese government to help disarm Hezbollah.

However Lebanese government sources said the talks showed up differences between the two sides on the timetable following the imposition of the ceasefire.

"We gave them the following position. An immediate ceasefire and at the same time an Israeli retreat beyond the blue line (border) and deployment of the Lebanese army in the south with a reinforced UN force," a government source said, asking not to be named.

However the United States "proposed a halt to hostilities for a week during which the creation of an international force would be discussed while the Israeli army maintained its positions on the ground."

"The points of view stayed far apart," the source added.

Welch came to Lebanon almost one week after Rice was forced to shelve a visit here during a tour of the Middle East.

Rice's visit was called off because of anger over Israel's bombardment of the village of Qana which killed 28 people, with protests also aimed at the United States, Israel's staunchest ally.

Overnight, the seat of the Lebanese government in downtown Beirut was surrounded by security forces to keep away several hundred demonstrators, many waving yellow Hezbollah flags, protesting against Mr Welch's visit.

His visit came as the United States and France reached an accord on a resolution for the UN Security Council on the crisis.

"An accord has been found between the French and Americans on the draft resolution on the Middle East prepared by France to call for a complete cessation of hostilities and work towards permanent ceasefire and long-term solution," said French authorities.

Welch, who also met with the Shiite speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, seen as an intermediary for Hezbollah.

"There is no reason for the Israeli army to stay in Lebanon once a ceasefire as been put in place," said an aide to the Shiite speaker.

Welch admitted that the United States had been taken aback by the size of the challenge facing Lebanon after three weeks of Israeli bombardments.

"The challenges facing Lebanon today are much more difficult than we imagined," he said, emphasising that President George W. Bush and Rice were "determined" to support Lebanon.

"I hope that we can all work together to realise the dreams of the people of Lebanon."

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