Push for Cease-Fire Heats Up at U.N.

Push for Cease-Fire Heats Up at U.N.
Arab leaders say the resolution must call for Israel’s full withdrawal from Lebanon. Israel replaces a key general and continues airstrikes.
By Maggie Farley
Times Staff Writer

August 9, 2006

UNITED NATIONS — The struggle for a diplomatic solution to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict intensified at the United Nations on Tuesday, while Israel faced its own disagreements over tactics, replacing a key general who wanted to hit the enemy harder.

Israel launched fresh aerial attacks in Lebanon early today.

Arab leaders told the Security Council on Tuesday that its draft cease-fire resolution must call for Israel’s complete withdrawal and an immediate halt to fighting or it risked destroying Lebanon.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Jassim ibn Jaber al Thani said the resolution under consideration 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 each side to hold its position, while allowing Israel to take defensive action. Hamad Jassim 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 fill. 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 at a news conference at his ranch outside 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 bloodshed.

“Twenty-seven days ago, we asked for an immediate cease-fire. More than 900 lives ago, we asked for an immediate cease-fire,” Mitri said. He called the draft resolution’s provisions to stop the fighting “neither immediate nor a cease-fire.”

The United States and France are expected to produce a new version of the draft resolution today and hope for a vote Thursday. French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said that his country supported Lebanon’s proposal to deploy 15,000 troops to control the southern region along with international help.

“I’m working on how to incorporate this important element into the text,” De la Sabliere said after meeting with the Arab League delegation. He denied that France and the United States had split after Tuesday’s session.

In a sign of potential flexibility, Israel said that the Lebanese government’s pledge to send 15,000 troops into southern Lebanon was worth studying. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed that the composition of an international force needed to be “discussed rapidly.” Israel wants the force to have a strong mandate to prevent attacks by Hezbollah and to curtail the guerrillas’ procurement of weapons.

At the same time, Olmert’s government appeared poised to endorse a wider ground offensive in Lebanon, in which as many as 10,000 troops seek to secure a 4-mile-deep strip north of the border.

Olmert’s so-called security Cabinet, a small circle of senior advisors, was expected today to approve a new push by Israeli troops that could extend to the Litani River, whose meandering course runs about 18 miles north of the border.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, speaking to his fellow Labor Party lawmakers, said Israel’s military aim was to push Hezbollah fighters away from the border in order to quell rocket attacks. 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.”

Tens of thousands of Israelis have fled their homes in the north, seeking to escape Hezbollah rocket strikes. The Israeli government has agreed to evacuate 15,000 residents in the rocket-battered north, sending them to coastal cities for up to a week.

Israeli 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.

Israeli commanders say they plan to push on to the Litani River until told otherwise.

Shihrur said he was confident the Israeli military had hurt Hezbollah by killing about 35% 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 Tuesday after Israeli aircraft dropped fliers warning that non-humanitarian-aid vehicles venturing onto roads south of the Litani could be attacked.

“Every vehicle, whatever its nature, which travels south of the Litani will be bombed on suspicion of transporting rockets and arms for the terrorists,” said the fliers, which were signed, “The state of Israel.” Aid vehicles were allowed to enter a security zone but were all but stranded north of the Litani after Israeli jets took out a bridge north of Tyre that had been used to carry 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 detour into the region today, but heavy fighting prevented them from reaching some of the most devastated villages in the south.

In the village of Ghazieh, southeast of Sidon, where 16 villagers were killed during a series of airstrikes Monday, a wave of missiles hit about 500 yards from a large funeral procession.

At least 13 people were killed and 23 injured in the attack, reportedly targeted at the home of a Hezbollah cleric. Witnesses told Lebanon’s New TV that a series of missiles slammed into five houses within half an hour as an estimated 1,500 mourners were passing through the streets.

The mourners chanted, “Death to America, death to Israel.”

Israel said the strike in Ghazieh was aimed at buildings and did not come near the funeral procession.

Airstrikes continued throughout southern Lebanon on Tuesday and early today, with sporadic shelling in towns south and east of Tyre. Israel also carried out at least 15 airstrikes around Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, and five trucks carrying diesel from Syria were targeted and set ablaze.

Early today, Israeli warplanes hit Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon, killing at least one person. The Israeli military said it was targeting buildings in the camp used by Hezbollah. Israeli artillery also pounded the southern border area overnight ahead of a possible new incursion.

On Tuesday, half a dozen new strikes hit south Beirut, where workers spent the morning scouring the rubble of an apartment building in the Shiyah neighborhood that was struck Monday. The death toll climbed to 32, with more than 75 wounded.

In a nearby hospital, doctors removed dead 6-month-old twin fetuses from the womb of a woman whose uterus and liver were torn apart in the blast. A 13-year-old boy lay stunned with pain, his body covered from scalp to calves with purple and yellow shrapnel wounds.

Ali Ammar, a member of the Lebanese parliament from Hezbollah, told reporters at the scene of the attack that the apartment 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 internal disagreement over battle tactics, Israel named a new commander for operations in Lebanon, sidelining the general who had been directing the offensive.

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the army’s 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 Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, who in his position as head of the northern command ran an offensive that some Israelis think 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 the military.

Some commentators expressed concerns that the turmoil could hurt the war effort.

“There is no other way to say it except that today a baby-sitter was appointed for Udi Adam,” said political analyst Amnon Avramovich, who called the 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. Adam told Israeli television that he would continue to make the “final decisions” in the northern command.

Times staff writers Laura King in Tel Aviv, Kim Murphy in Beirut and Tracy Wilkinson in Kiryat Shemona, Israel, contributed to this report.

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