Pullout is sticking point in cease-fire
UNITED NATIONS – The struggle for a diplomatic solution to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict continues at the United Nations, while Israel faces its own disagreements over tactics, replacing a key general who wanted to hit Hezbollah harder.Arab leaders told the Security Council on Tuesday that its draft Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire resolution needed to call for Israel’s full withdrawal from Lebanon as well as an immediate halt to hostilities, or it risked destroying Lebanon.Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani said the resolution under consideration at the United Nations was “unenforceable” and would “further complicate the situation on the ground and have grave ramifications for Lebanon and all the countries in the region.”The draft calls for a halt in the fighting, and would allow both sides to hold their positions, while allowing Israel to take defensive action. Hamad was part of an Arab League delegation that flew to New York to press Lebanon’s demands.The United States and Israel argue that an Israeli pullout would create a vacuum that Hezbollah would quickly occupy. President Bush said Tuesday that he wanted Israel to stay until an international force arrived to help Lebanon take control of the southern part of the country, where Hezbollah’s operations are based.”Whatever happens in the U.N., we must not create a vacuum into which Hezbollah and its sponsors are able to move more weapons,” Bush said in a news conference at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.Lebanon’s acting foreign minister, Tareq Mitri, asked for additional forces to bolster U.N. peacekeepers already in the country, and pleaded for swift action to stop the fighting.”Twenty-seven days ago, we asked for an immediate cease-fire. More than 900 lives ago, we asked for an immediate cease-fire,” he said. He called the draft resolution’s provisions to halt fighting “neither immediate nor a cease-fire.”The United States and France are expected to produce a new version of the draft resolution Wednesday with the hope for a vote Thursday. French ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said France supported Lebanon’s new proposal to deploy 15,000 troops to take control of the southern region with international help.”I’m working on how to incorporate this important element into the text,” he said after meeting with the Arab League delegation.In a sign of potential flexibility, Israel said Lebanon’s pledge to send troops into south Lebanon was worth studying. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed that the composition of an international force needed to be “discussed rapidly.” Israel insists that the force have a strong mandate to prevent attacks by Hezbollah and curtail guerrillas’ procurement of weaponry.At the same time, Olmert’s government appeared poised to endorse a wider ground offensive in Lebanon, where as many as 10,000 Israeli troops are seeking to secure a 4-mile-deep strip just north of the border.Olmert’s “security Cabinet,” a small circle of senior advisers, was expected Wednesday to approve a new push by Israeli troops that could extend to the Litani River, whose meandering course runs roughly 18 miles north of the frontier.Defense Minister Amir Peretz, speaking to fellow Labor Party lawmakers, said Israel’s military aim was to push Hezbollah fighters away from the border. More than 160 rockets fell on Israel’s northern tier Tuesday, but no casualties were reported.”I instructed the military leaders to carry out an operation to … reduce Hezbollah’s ability to launch rockets at the state of Israel,” Peretz said. “The army’s objective is to allow the home front to live normally.”The Israeli government has agreed to pay to send 15,000 residents from their homes in the rocket-battered north to a coastal city for a brief vacation, avoiding the term “evacuation.”Brig. Gen. Shuki Shihrur, deputy commander of the Northern Command, said the army planned to press ahead with an offensive from land, air and sea, controlling villages and roads in southern Lebanon and pounding bridges and buildings in the south and around Beirut, the Lebanese capital.”We continue to fight and we do not stop,” Shihrur told a briefing of reporters at Northern Command headquarters in Sefad.Shihrur said he was confident that the Israeli military had succeeded in hurting Hezbollah by killing roughly 35 percent of its active fighting force and significantly depleting its ability to fire rockets. “The Hezbollah terrorist organization is not the same organization we met four weeks ago,” he said.All of southern Lebanon was under virtual lockdown after Israeli aircraft dropped fliers warning that all non-humanitarian vehicles venturing out on roads south of the Litani River would risk being shot.”Every vehicle, whatever its nature, which travels south of the Litani (River) will be bombed on suspicion of transporting rockets and arms for the terrorists,” said the leaflets, which were signed by “the state of Israel.” Aid vehicles were officially allowed to enter the security zone, but were all but stranded north of the Litani River after Israeli jets took out a secondary bridge north of Tyre that had been used to carry in aid shipments from Beirut.”For the time being, Tyre is cut off,” said Robin Lodge, spokesman for the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Food and fresh water are a problem. The supplies seem to be limited, and they’re running out.”Aid agencies hoped to establish a new detour into the region Wednesday, but heavy fighting prevented them from reaching some of the most devastated villages in the south.In the village of Ghazieh, southeast of Sidon, Lebanon, where 16 villagers were killed during a series of airstrikes Monday, a new wave of missiles hit about 500 yards from a large funeral procession Tuesday.At least 13 people were killed and 23 others were injured in the new attacks, reportedly targeted at the home of a Hezbollah cleric. Witnesses told Lebanon’s New TV that a series of missiles slammed into five nearby houses within a half-hour period as an estimated 1,500 mourners were passing through the streets.Mourners began chanting “Death to America, Death to Israel” as they moved toward the cemetery.Israel said the strike in Ghazieh was aimed at buildings and did not come near the funeral procession.Airstrikes continued throughout south Lebanon, with sporadic shelling in towns south and east of the city of Tyre. Israelis carried out at least 15 airstrikes around Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, and five trucks carrying diesel fuel from Syria were targeted and set ablaze.Half a dozen new strikes hit south Beirut, where workers spent the morning scouring the rubble of an apartment building in the Shiyya neighborhood that was struck shortly after dusk Monday. By Tuesday, the death toll had climbed to 32, with more than 75 wounded.Ali Ammar, a member of the Lebanese parliament from Hezbollah, told reporters at the scene of the missile attack that the building contained no Hezbollah members. “The enemy only targets civilians,” he said.”This massacre will not pass without punishment. Because the enemy only understands the language of force. We trust that the resistance will respond, as it has always kept its promise.”In a sign of sharp internal disagreement over battle tactics, Israel on Tuesday named a new commander for operations in Lebanon, sidelining the general who had been directing the offensive.Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, deputy chief of staff and a veteran of earlier campaigns in Lebanon, was named to “coordinate the Israeli army’s operations in Lebanon.” He takes over for Gen. Udi Adam, who in his position as head of the Northern Command has run an offensive that some Israelis believe failed to deal a crippling blow to Hezbollah.Israeli commentators suggested that Adam was demoted because he angered Olmert when he accused the political establishment of tying the hands of those prosecuting the war.Some commentators expressed concerns that the high-level turmoil could hurt Israel’s war effort.”There is no other way to say it except that today a baby sitter was appointed for Udi Adam,” said Channel Two’s political analyst, Amnon Avramovich, who called the mid-conflict change of command “puzzling.” Adam, whose father, Gen. Yekutiel Adam, was the highest-ranking commander killed in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, will remain in his post, the army statement said.
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