|U.N. Diplomats Inject Fresh Impetus to Peace Effort as Israel Warns that Failure Will Lead to More Fighting
|U.N. diplomats on Tuesday prepared for a fresh push to resolve the crisis in Lebanon, which readied 15,000 troops to send to the south, as Israel warned that any failure to reach a conclusion would lead to more fighting.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora made a tearful plea Monday for an end to the conflict in Lebanon as 69 people were killed in a blitz of air raids in one of the highest death tolls in a single day since the violence began on July 12.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a report that Israel's deadly attack on the Lebanese village of Qana, where 28 civilians died in an Israeli air raid, could be part of "a pattern of violations of international law" committed in the Israel-Hizbullah war.
The government, including its two Hizbullah cabinet members, approved a plan to deploy 15,000 troops to the border once Israel leaves and called up reserve troops in preparation.
Israeli defense Minister Amir Peretz threatened an expanded ground operation if diplomacy does not produce results soon.
"I gave an order that, if within the coming days the diplomatic process does not reach a conclusion, Israeli forces will carry out the operations necessary to take control of rocket launching sites wherever they are," Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said.
Israel's Justice Minister Haim Ramon said his country could not withdraw before the arrival of an international force. "The moment we leave, Hizbullah will return."
On the ground, fighting continued Tuesday between Hizbullah fighters and Israeli forces in the south near the border. One Israeli soldier was killed and five others wounded in clashes in Bint Jbeil, the Israeli army said.
It also claimed 15 Hizbullah fighters were killed in the town but there was no immediate confirmation from the group.
Hizbullah TV, Al-Manar, claimed the fighters had inflicted casualties on Israeli forces near the coastal town of Naqoura some 4 kilometers north of the border. The Israeli army confirmed that clashes occurred in the western sector and that there were casualties, but did not say which side had suffered the losses or give the location of the incidents.
Israel has sent thousands of ground forces into south Lebanon in an attempt to clear the area, a Hizbullah stronghold, of fighters and prevent them from launching rockets across the border.
In a sign of a possible escalation, the Israeli army said it declared an indefinite curfew beginning Monday night on the movement of vehicles south of the Litani. Humanitarian traffic would be allowed, but other vehicles would be at risk if they ignored the order, it said.
According to official tolls, more than 1,000 Lebanese have been killed and around 3,500 wounded in the offensive, which has also forced more than 915,000 from their homes and left the economy in ruins.
The Israeli military launched fresh strikes on Lebanon Monday. A sunset airstrike on the Chiah district south of Beirut killed at least 20 and wounded more than 50. Twenty-six other people are still missing and believed buried under the rubble.
Earlier Monday, Israeli warplanes bombed houses, bridges and roads in southern and eastern Lebanon.
The Israeli army also said it had downed a Hizbullah drone -- the latest sign of the military capabilities of the group.
The new wave of deadly raids came as Washington urged the quick passage of a U.N. resolution calling for a full halt to the fighting, although there was little sign of international agreement on a peace plan.
France sought changes to the draft U.N. text, further delaying a vote by the Security Council, which was scheduled for a public debate Tuesday on the conflict including envoys from Arab countries.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected at the United Nations at some stage of discussions.
The Security Council had been expected to adopt a resolution jointly drafted by France and the United States by Tuesday, but diplomats said they could no longer say when a vote would take place after Lebanon demanded revisions.
The main Lebanese objection to the draft text is that it fails to insist on an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, which had pulled out of the country in 2000 after a bloody 22-year occupation.