Israel approves UN ceasefire

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday approved a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, a political source said. However, both Israel and Hezbollah showed little inclination to stop fighting ahead of Monday’s proposed truce.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had said the prime ministers of Israel and Lebanon agreed fighting would end on Monday. It began on July 12 when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Olmert had urged the Cabinet to accept the UN resolution.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni repeated Israel’s position that its troops would only pull out when a peacekeeping force arrived—which the UN says could take up to 10 days.

“Israel will leave in tandem with the deployment south of the Lebanese army along with the international force—not a situation where we see that a Lebanese army soldier has arrived and now they tell us to leave,” she told a news conference.

Israeli troops battled Hezbollah guerrillas across southern Lebanon on Sunday and warplanes bombarded Beirut’s southern suburbs, a day before a truce brokered at the UN was due to begin.

Al Arabiya television reported that seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting.
On Saturday, the Israeli military suffered its deadliest day of the month-old war with 19 soldiers killed and five others missing and feared dead after their helicopter was shot down by Hezbollah.

Israeli aircraft attacked targets in more than 50 villages and towns, Lebanese security sources said, killing at least six people in southern Lebanon and six in the Bekaa valley.

Several explosions shook Beirut and thick white smoke billowed over the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs.

More than 153 rockets fired by Hezbollah hit northern Israel, killing one person and wounding 11, Israeli police said.

Israel widened its offensive on Friday despite the UN resolution, and about 30 000 Israeli troops are in Lebanon.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that the Israeli government was willing to discuss a possible release of Hezbollah prisoners in exchange for freeing two Israeli soldiers whose capture on July 12 sparked the war.

The UN said Israeli and Lebanese leaders had agreed that a truce would take effect at 0500 GMT on Monday. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said fighting should end immediately to spare civilians.

“The fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Security 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.

Air raids

In Lebanon, three civilians were killed and 13 wounded in an Israeli air raid on the village of Ali Al Nahri in the eastern Bekaa Valley, security sources said.

Five people, including a mother and her three children, died when a house was struck near the southern city of Tyre, and two people were killed and four wounded when a truck was hit in the eastern Bekaa valley. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in air strikes, one in Tyre and one in the Bekaa valley.

Artillery pounded Hezbollah-held areas in south Lebanon. Hundreds of rounds crashed into the Hezbollah stronghold of Khiam, residents said.

Hezbollah reported fierce fighting in several parts of the border area and said its guerrillas destroyed at least three tanks and two bulldozers. It said guerrillas were fighting an Israeli unit trying to reach the downed helicopter.

The Israeli military said it had launched more than 100 air strikes in Lebanon since Friday evening, targeting more than 50 Hezbollah command stations, two missile launchers and two vehicles carrying weapons from Syria to the Bekaa valley.

At least 1 076 people in Lebanon and 144 Israelis, including 104 soldiers, have been killed in the war.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his government unanimously approved the UN resolution on Saturday, and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters would abide by the ceasefire once Israeli forces also adhered to it.

The resolution envisages a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon as 15 000 Lebanese troops deploy there along with up to 15 000 UN peacekeeping troops.

But some analysts cautioned fighting was unlikely to stop.

“I think this talk of a ceasefire going into effect tomorrow [Monday] seems to be highly exaggerated and dubious,” said Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“It seems that Israel’s strategy has been to establish positions as far north as possible to implement a fighting withdrawal, meaning that they will try to take on as much of Hezbollah as they can as they work their way south.”

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would abide by the UN resolution and cooperate with the UN and Lebanese troops, but would carry on confronting any Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil.

France is widely expected to lead the UN force, which will expand the existing UN Interim Force in Lebanon but have a stronger mandate. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told Le Monde newspaper the mission of the new force would not include disarming Hezbollah by force.

A senior Israeli commander, Major General Udi Adam, said some Israeli forces had reached as far as the Litani River in Lebanon. The river is a few kilometres from the border at some points but about 20km away at others.—Reuters

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