Lebanese Premier Seeking Changes to U.N. Proposal
Monday, August 7, 2006
BEIRUT, Aug. 6 -- Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Sunday he is seeking amendments to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would combine the dispatch of United Nations and Lebanese army peacekeepers with the immediate pullout of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.
Siniora, in an interview, said his suggestions were an attempt to meet the interests of Israel as well as Lebanon and its Hezbollah movement in seeking an end to the fighting that has engulfed Lebanon and Israel for 26 days. The resolution proposed by the United States and France, he said, is "impractical" because it would leave Israeli occupation troops and Hezbollah militiamen face to face in the border hills, virtually certain to keep fighting.
He said Lebanon stands ready to deploy 15,000 soldiers and accept a 2,000-member international force led by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, until a political settlement can be worked out and a more permanent international peacekeeping force can be assembled and deployed to Lebanon.
"And this can be done quickly," he said.
UNIFIL has been stationed in southern Lebanon since the Israeli army invaded a swath of villages in 1978. Having Lebanese soldiers join the UNIFIL force would enable Lebanese government forces to be in charge of the border zone south of the Litani River for the first time since 1978, Siniora noted.
"This is a Lebanese objective and it suits the Israelis' objectives as well," he added.
Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim movement, and other Shiite Lebanese politicians have taken issue with the draft resolution because it makes no mention of an immediate Israeli withdrawal.
"How can you guarantee you are not going to have a confrontation?" Siniora asked.
Government ministers from Hezbollah insisted that they would abide by the proposed U.N. resolution only if no Israeli soldier remained on Lebanese soil, including the disputed Shebaa Farms area that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war but is claimed in Beirut as Lebanese territory.
"Israelis are interested in having a sort of area that does not have any weapons of Hezbollah and they want an international force," Siniora said. "What the Lebanese expect is a full withdrawal of all the Israelis from occupied Lebanese territory and to leave Shebaa Farms."
Siniora, an economist and banker by training, took over the Lebanese government in June 2005 following the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February and the withdrawal two months later of Syria's 40,000 troops from Lebanon, after mass protests.
He said he had spoken with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French officials over the weekend to impart details of the amendments sought by Lebanon. Jeffrey D. Feltman, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, met with officials twice Sunday in the Serail, the graceful, Ottoman-style building that houses the prime minister's office, to listen to clarifications of the Lebanese ideas.