Olmert Rejects Calls for Cease-Fire in Lebanon

By Jonathan Finer, Robin Wright and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 31, 2006; 6:52 PM

JERUSALEM, July 31 -- Israel rejected the prospect of a cease-fire in the coming days in its war with Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, launching new ground and air operations against the radical Shiite Muslim group a day after announcing a 48-hour partial suspension of airstrikes in the wake of a devastating attack on a south Lebanese village.

Later Monday, Israel's security cabinet unanimously approved a widening of the ground operations in Lebanon in a four-hour meeting, government officials said.

The security cabinet also decided that airstrikes in Lebanon would resume "in full force" after the suspension expires in another day, a meeting participant said, according to the Associated Press. The group rejected any cease-fire until an international force was deployed in southern Lebanon, AP reported.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking to a gathering of mayors in Tel Aviv, earlier ruled out a cease-fire until two Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah have been returned and the threat from Hezbollah rocket attacks has been removed.

"The fighting continues," he said. "There is no cease-fire, and there will not be any cease-fire in the coming days."

He spoke just hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported general agreement on terms for a U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution to end hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. "I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent cease-fire and lasting settlement," Rice told reporters in Jerusalem before flying back to Washington. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week."

Amid the confusion, a meeting scheduled at the United Nations Monday to discuss a new multinational force for southern Lebanon was postponed. A U.N. official said the meeting will be held when "there is more political clarity," Reuters news agency reported.

In Washington, a prominent Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, urged President Bush to call for an immediate cease-fire and work to restore an image of U.S. fairness in its approach to the Middle East. He also recommended the appointment of an experienced statesman to serve as a special envoy empowered to lead the U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

In Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad told the Syrian army it must remain prepared in the face of Israel's "barbaric war" in neighboring Lebanon.

"We are facing international circumstances and regional challenges that require caution, alert, readiness and preparedness," Assad said in a speech. "The barbaric war of annihilation the Israeli aggression is waging on our people in Lebanon and Palestine is increasing in ferocity," he told the army, which has been on alert since the fighting began July 12.

Israel's defense minister told parliament the army would continue to "expand and strengthen" its ground campaign against Hezbollah. Israel interrupted a promised 48-hour pause in aerial bombardments in southern Lebanon to strike an area near Taiba, where Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militants had fought.

"We are only attacking in cases when we need to protect our forces or civilians," an Israeli military spokesman said after the airstrikes, which came about 12 hours into the 48-hour period. "We are firing on open areas to prevent armed cells approaching our forces."

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