By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 7, 2006
CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 6 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Sunday for approval of a draft U.N. resolution calling for a "cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hezbollah, saying it is a crucial "first step" toward resolving the conflict.
Acknowledging that passage of the resolution would not immediately end the fighting that has raged for most of the past month, Rice said that it nonetheless offers a framework that would not only eventually end the hostilities but also stabilize the area going forward.
The resolution does not call for Israeli troops to immediately withdraw from Lebanon, a point that has drawn sharp opposition from key players in the conflict. Even as Rice called for the resolution's quick passage in the United Nations, Syria, which is one of Hezbollah's main sponsors, said the proposal is unacceptable.
"This agreement is bad in every sense of the word," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said as he arrived Sunday in the Lebanese northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon's national news agency reported.
Senior Lebanese officials also expressed reservations about the terms of the proposal. Mohamad Bahaa Chatah, senior adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, said Lebanon wants Israel to leave Lebanese territory as soon as a cease-fire takes hold.
"We are saying the Lebanese army, right after the cease-fire, right after the first resolution, takes charge of the south, takes over military positions at the same time that Israel withdraws to the border," Chatah said on "Fox News Sunday." "If we adopt a fuzzy plan waiting for some international force to be put together, in the meantime things can escalate -- and they probably will -- and can spill over to other countries in the region, and that's the last thing that anyone wants."
Speaking on the same program, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, said Israel is concerned about the terms of the release of two soldiers whose abduction ignited the current conflict, in which more than 600 Lebanese and 85 Israelis have been killed.
Israel would abide by the agreement if it allows for return of the kidnapped soldiers, disarms Hezbollah and prevents arms from flowing to Hezbollah, Ayalon said.
In comments to reporters here, Rice brushed aside opposition to the proposed deal, saying that the resolution should go to a quick vote. If it is approved, the international community will have spoken, she said, and "we'll see who's for peace and who isn't."
As Rice urged passage of the resolution, deadly fighting continued on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border. A barrage of Hezbollah rockets killed 15 people: 12 reserve soldiers at a kibbutz in northern Israel and three civilians in Haifa.
The rocket that hit the communal farm in Kfar Giladi was one of more than 115 fired into Israel by mid-afternoon Sunday. The attacks came as Israeli airstrikes pounded targets across southern Lebanon, killing 13, according to Lebanese journalists quoting local officials.
Rice, who was in Crawford for weekend meetings with President Bush at his ranch, urged Hezbollah's key foreign backers, Syria and Iran, to embrace the resolution. "We will ask everyone who has any influence with all the parties to talk to them about taking this opportunity," Rice said.
The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a "full cessation of hostilities," including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and "all offensive military operations" by Israel.
The proposal also lays out the framework for a permanent cease-fire that would involve the withdrawal of Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters from southern Lebanon. The measure would also call for Hezbollah to disarm.
Bush administration officials said they would hope to follow passage of the first resolution "within days" with a second measure authorizing deployment of an international force that would occupy southern Lebanon until the Lebanese military can establish authority in the region, which is now effectively controlled by Hezbollah.
Rice said that the proposal does not give Israel and Lebanon everything they want but that it is a "reasonable, equitable" way to address the crisis.
"There can't be a return to the status quo ante , which is extremely important to all the parties," Rice said. "Because we don't want to create a situation in which we get out of this, and then you create the conditions in which Hezbollah, a state within a state, goes across the line again, abducts soldiers, and we get another war."
Bush administration officials have insisted that the agreement allow the Lebanese government to extend its authority into the south, an area that has been used as a base for attacks against Israel for two decades.
The proposal also calls for Secretary General Kofi Annan to develop proposals to delineate borders on a disputed stretch of land abutting Israel, Syria and Lebanon -- a key issue because Hezbollah has justified keeping weapons there by saying the group is fighting Israeli occupation that began during the 1967 war.
"We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years," Rice said. "And so it's not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council."
At the United Nations, Security Council diplomats said, representatives debated the U.S. and French text in closed-door sessions. The council's lone Arab government, Qatar, introduced amendments on behalf of Lebanon.
The changes address Lebanese concerns that the text would permit Israel to carry out defensive military operations while constraining Hezbollah from engaging in any military action. Lebanon also maintains that the resolution would allow Israel to remain in southern Lebanon indefinitely.
The amendments called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and military operations by both sides, and demanded that the Israeli forces withdraw from southern Lebanon as soon as the truce is approved.
They also called for the simultaneous release of Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and detainees through the Red Cross. Israel and the United States oppose a prisoner exchange because they think it would reward Hezbollah for capturing the two Israeli soldiers and killing six others.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.