Lebanon: UNSC OKs ceasefire deal but Israel continues incursions
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution early Saturday that calls for an end to the war between Israel and Hizbullah, and authorizes 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help Lebanese forces take control of south Lebanon as Israel withdraws.
Drafted by France and the U.S., it was adopted unanimously.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution late Friday. Lebanon's Cabinet was to consider the draft on Saturday, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Lebanese government assured her that it supported the text, the AP reported.
The next point of contention will be when to implement the cessation of hostilities. Israel said its campaign would continue until Sunday, when its Cabinet will meet to endorse the resolution. Long columns of Israeli tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers streamed over the border early Saturday.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials as soon as possible to determine the exact date of a cease-fire. Israel on Saturday continued airstrikes in Akkar province in the north and on Sidon and Tyre in the south, Lebanese security officials and local media said.
Rice said the "hard work of diplomacy" was only beginning with the passage of the resolution and that it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence. "Today we call upon every state, especially Iran and Syria, to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community," Rice told the council. "We will now end to work very hard," Rice told reporters afterward. "This is a first step but it is a good first step."
Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, suggested that his nation would accept the resolution though he said its call for a cessation of fighting could not be implemented. He criticized it for allowing Israel to continue some operations. "A cease-fire that by its terms cannot be implemented is no cease-fire," Mitri said. "A cease-fire that retains the right for one side the right not to cease firing is not a cease-fire."
There is also no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or a demand for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Although the draft resolution emphasizes the need for the "unconditional release" of the two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hizbullah sparked the conflict, that call is not included in the list of steps required for a lasting cease-fire.
At the heart of the resolution are two elements: It seeks an immediate halt to the fighting and it spells out a series of steps that would lead to a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution. That would be gained by creating a new buffer zone in south Lebanon "free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL".
Under the resolution, UNIFIL would be significantly beefed up to help coordinate when 15,000 Lebanese troops deploy to the region. As Lebanese forces take control of the south, Israeli troops would withdraw "in parallel."
Despite agreeing to the cease-fire resolution drafted by the United Nations Security Council Israel said late Friday that the expanded incursion into Lebanon would continue "for the time being." Israel will press ahead with its military offfensive in south Lebanon until Israel's Cabinet approves the cease-fire deal, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said early Saturday.
"The logic would be that even in the framework of this successful outcome, if you hand over to the Lebanese army a cleaner south Lebanon, a south Lebanon where you have Hizbullah removed from the territory, that makes their [the Lebanese] troubles a lot easier," Regev said.
Senior Israel Defense Forces officers said that the Israeli army is "continuing forward at full power," and that all forces slated to take part in the expanded incursion have already assumed forward positions in the field.