Tuesday, August 01, 2006

No Cease-Fire Soon, Israeli Leader Says
Wider Ground War Approved; Airstrikes Resume

By Jonathan Finer and Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; A01

JERUSALEM, Aug. 1 -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Monday that there "will be no cease-fire in the coming days," and his top security officials unanimously approved a widening of Israel's military operations on the ground in southern Lebanon after a four-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday morning, government officials said.

The decision followed Israel's agreement Sunday to suspend air attacks on south Lebanon for 48 hours. About 12 hours after the suspension took effect, Israeli planes launched strikes in support of ground operations near Taibe. Israeli officials said they reserved the right to continue attacks to prevent an immediate threat. [Israel launched airstrikes against southern Lebanese border villages early Tuesday, hitting Bayyada and Mansoureh, the Reuters news agency reported, citing Lebanese security sources.] Hezbollah launched only four rockets into northern Israel on Monday, police and military officials said, a day after firing more than 150.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to Washington Monday evening after vowing to push for a U.N. Security Council resolution this week aimed at ending the fighting. State Department officials traveling with her said the resolution would include a cease-fire and the "nearly simultaneous" deployment of international troops to a buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

Since an Israeli airstrike Sunday killed more than 50 civilians, most of them children, in the Lebanese village of Qana, Arab and European pressure for an immediate cease-fire has increased, diplomats at the Security Council said.

President Bush on Monday called the Qana deaths "awful" and promised to work for a durable cease-fire plan that would extend Lebanese control over Hezbollah's stronghold in the south, deploy an international force along the Israel-Lebanon border and pressure Iran and Syria to stop backing Hezbollah.

In a Monday evening speech to Israeli mayors in Tel Aviv, Olmert apologized for the Qana attack but said the three-week-long offensive, which began after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid, would end only "when the threat over our heads is removed, when our kidnapped soldiers return to their homes and when we can live in security."

"Many days of fighting still await us," he said.

Israel says it is investigating the Qana incident. But Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, urged the U.N. Security Council to demand an immediate cease-fire and launch an investigation into the Israeli strike.

Fighting continued in Lebanese towns north of the Israeli village of Metulla and in Maroun al-Ras, where Israeli soldiers began their ground incursion more than two weeks ago. Three Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded near the Lebanese town of Taibe on Monday when a Hezbollah missile struck an armored vehicle and an Israeli tank that arrived to help was also fired upon.

"On the ground, it's not a cease-fire at all, just a limitation of planes shooting toward buildings and villages," said Maj. Svika Golan, a spokesman for the Israeli army's Northern Command. "If you see a terrorist moving around a village, you cannot shoot him from the air. But the ground forces carry on working."

Air attacks from both sides were down sharply Monday. Citing an Israeli military source, Israel Radio and other local media outlets reported that as much as two-thirds of Hezbollah's Iranian-provided supply of longer-range missiles had been destroyed.

"We are only attacking in cases when we need to protect our forces or civilians," an Israeli military spokesman said. "We are firing on open areas to prevent armed cells approaching our forces."

An Israeli airstrike on a vehicle traveling near a Lebanese military base at Qasmiyeh, north of Tyre, killed a Lebanese soldier and wounded three others.

"The attack was based on information that a senior member of Hezbollah was in the vehicle," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. But the target "was not in the vehicle at the moment of the attack. The IDF expresses deep regret for the incident."

In a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Olmert said that Israel "was interested" in having "an effective multinational force come to Lebanon," according to a written account of the exchange provided by Olmert's office Monday night. It said he added that it would be possible to implement a cease-fire "immediately upon the deployment of the force."

A scheduled meeting at the United Nations of countries that might contribute troops was postponed.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told his military Monday to boost its readiness to cope with "regional challenges," according to Reuters. Syria and Iran are Hezbollah's chief benefactors.

Also Monday, Israeli drones and other planes fired at three pickup trucks near a Lebanese border crossing into Syria, wounding four civilians and a customs officer, according to the Associated Press. An Israeli military spokesman said the trucks were loaded with weapons, but Lebanese officials said one vehicle was carrying relief supplies, the Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah said its rockets struck an Israeli warship off the coast of Tyre on Monday, but Israeli officials said no such attack occurred.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli artillery killed a Palestinian teenager in what the Israeli army called an attack against militants firing rockets into Israeli towns, according to the Associated Press. Palestinian radicals vowed to take revenge for the Qana attack and threatened suicide bombings.

Lebanon's Health Ministry said 519 people have been confirmed killed since the fighting began. Israeli officials said 33 Israeli soldiers have died and 18 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel.

Taking advantage of the abatement in bombing, Lebanese fled north Monday, and U.N. and other relief organizations accelerated the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the south Lebanon hills, where an estimated 750,000 people have been displaced by Israeli bombing over the last three weeks.

Relief officials emphasized, however, that Israel's limited bombing suspension was not enough to guarantee delivery of supplies to all the needy in Lebanon. "In these circumstances, the United Nations is continuing relief operations, but the conditions do not yet exist for a major increase in deliveries," the U.N. Beirut office said.

Each convoy heading for south Lebanon must still negotiate with Israeli military authorities for permission, U.N. officials said. This has been the situation since hostilities erupted July 12.

Amer Daoudi of the World Food Program said that two convoys got to Tyre on Monday and would move out Tuesday morning to villages in south Lebanon, with one bound for Qana. Another four convoys are scheduled to move toward the south Tuesday, he said."We welcome this, but it's just a drop in the bucket," he added. "Security remains the biggest impediment we have." Another concern for relief officials is Lebanon's dwindling fuel supplies, since the country's electricity generating plants all operate on diesel. The government has said that only a few more days' supply remains. Once that runs out, electricity would quickly stop, making normal health care impossible and the movement of relief supplies difficult.

"If we run out of fuel, everything will come to a standstill," Daoudi said.

Mona Hammam, the U.N. relief coordinator for Lebanon, said negotiations are underway with Israeli military authorities to allow oil tankers to bring in new supplies. If Israel does not quickly grant that permission, she said, "it will be a catastrophe of major proportions."

The damage to Lebanon's civilian infrastructure has stopped the country's economy in its tracks, Hammam said, and raised the prospect of another long, expensive rebuilding effort for a nation still recovering from the ruinous 1975-90 civil war. She also said Israel's bombing campaign so far has killed about 750 Lebanese and wounded 3,200, almost all of them civilians.

On Monday, rescue workers searching bombed-out cars and sifting through the rubble of destroyed buildings in southern Lebanon found at least 49 bodies of civilians, Reuters reported.

Cody reported from Beirut. Correspondents Robin Wright in Shannon, Ireland, and Colum Lynch at the United Nations and special correspondent Ian Deitch contributed to this report.


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