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French Version

Fragile Lebanon truce enters second week

BEIRUT, Aug 21, 2006 (AFP) - A fragile truce ending 34 days of war in Lebanon entered its second week Monday with each side charging the other has broken the ceasefire accord, while the United Nations struggled to create a credible peacekeeping force.

Lebanese hopes of quick aid from the Arab League were dashed when a meeting of the 22-member bloc Sunday said they were committed to helping reconstruction but delayed discussion of concrete plans until September.

In Tehran, Hezbollah's representative Abdullah Safieddin warned that the Lebanese Shiite militia would not give up its weapons, contesting the terms of UN Resolution 1701 which paved the way for an end to the fighting.

"There will not be a disarmament, the UN resolution has not demanded that," Safiddein told the Shargh newspaper.

The UN resolution calls for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon as well as the withdrawal of Israeli forces in tandem with the deployment of the Lebanese army and a strengthened UN force in the war-battered south.

Safieddin told Shargh that Hezbollah reserved the right to import weapons.

"If anybody wants to resist they will seek to buy arms if need be," he said.

"As long as the (Lebanese) army does not have the capability to defend the country we have to defend it." Lebanon warned Sunday it would punish any group that violated the truce, in an implicit warning to Hezbollah, as Israel vowed it was preparing for the "next round" against the Shiite guerrillas.

Despite sharp criticism of a commando raid in Lebanon which UN chief Kofi Annan called a violation of the truce, Israel insisted it would not hesitate to act against alleged cross-border arms smuggling to Hezbollah from Syria.

Saturday's Israeli raid underscored the fragility of the August 14 ceasefire as the UN struggled to establish a promised expanded peacekeeping force of 15,000 troops.

In Israel, public anger at the way the nation's leadership conducted the war grew, with a group of reservists publishing a public letter of protest and a top general saying the military was guilty of arrogance.

Critics have steadily upped pressure on the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to set up a state committee to examine how the political and military leadership handled the deadly 34-day war.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that the government was ready to face up to the widespread cricitism of an offensive that failed to achieve the goals of crippling Hezbollah and retrieving two soldiers captured by Shiite militants on July 12.

Meanwhile, European leaders planned to hold further talks this week in Brussels on the composition of a peacekeeping force amid concerns over the rules of engagement for its troops.

Israel has called for a rapid deployment of the multinational force but opposes the participation of countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations.

In an apparent bid to assure the international community of Lebanon's commitment to the ceasefire, Defense Minister Elias Murr warned that anyone who breached the deal would be charged with treason.

"Any violation ... any rocket that would give Israel a justification (to hit Lebanon) will be treated harshly," Murr said. "It will be considered as direct collaboration with the Israeli enemy." The raid against Hezbollah in eastern Lebanon, which led to one Israeli soldier being killed in subsequent clashes, provoked an angry response from Lebanon and a warning it could halt its troop deployment in the south.

Annan said he was "deeply concerned about a violation by the Israeli side" of the ceasefire, and called on all sides to respect an arms embargo, exercise maximum restraint and avoid "provocative actions".

The truce took effect last Monday to end the deadliest cross-border fighting in a quarter century that claimed close to 1,300 lives in Lebanon and 161 in Israel.

Visiting UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen warned at a Beirut press conference that such incidents were "unhelpful" and "will not exactly give incentives" for countries to contribute to a planned 15,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

President George W. Bush's administration said the Israeli raid showed that the UN force should be expanded as soon as possible.

The United Nations has been urging countries, particularly Europeans, to send troops, but most governments want more details on the precise mandate of the force before contributing.

UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said Friday that 3,500 troops were needed on the ground within 10 days.

Israel's offensive against Lebanon, triggered by the July 12 capture of two servicemen, has laid waste to much of the country's infrastructure, destroying homes, roads, bridges and power stations.

During a tour of Beirut's bombed-out southern suburbs Sunday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora described the onslaught as a "crime against humanity".

The Lebanese government announced cash donations to the victims and their families of between 6,650 dollars and 13,350 dollars each, and appealed for world donations.

beirut 21-08-2006

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