Friday, August 11, 2006

Deal forged on UN Mideast ceasefire draft - August 11, 2006

France and the United States reached agreement on Friday on a draft resolution for halting the bloodshed in Lebanon and Israel, British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett said.

The full 15-nation U.N. Security Council gets the new revised text shortly and a vote was expected late on Friday, British, U.S. and French officials said.

Israel and Lebanon have received the draft but Beckett said sponsors of the resolution would push ahead for a vote, regardless of their response, following days of consultations with both governments.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Beckett had arrived in New York expecting to participate in last-minute talks. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was en route to New York.

Rice phoned both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to try to get them to accept the text, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told Reuters.

The draft resolution, forged on the same day Israel ordered an expansion of its ground offensive, calls for an immediate "cessation of hostilities" followed by a phased withdrawal of Israeli units as the Lebanese army and an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force move into the south.

Beckett said Israel and Lebanon were expected to agree but she did not expect either country to "go out and say we accept every bit of text but that they would implement the text."

She cautioned that the resolution was a short-term plan. "We're not here trying to solve all the problems of the Middle East overnight," Beckett said.


At the insistence of Lebanon, the United States and Britain agreed to drop a reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which permits a robust U.N. peacekeeping operation and instead put the resolution under the weaker Chapter 6.

British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said the text would carry language that would permit peacekeepers to use force to implement their mission.

More than 1,000 Lebanese and 121 Israelis have been killed in the five-week-old war that began on July 12 with the cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah guerrillas.

Lebanon had rejected an international force not under U.N. control while Israel, which planned to deploy more troops in Lebanon, insisted on a strong multinational force before it would withdraw.

The latest compromise proposal calls for a phased withdrawal by Israeli troops as the Lebanese army deploys 15,000 troops in the south, controlled by Hizbollah.

At the same time, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, would be reinforced by French and other troops, perhaps as many as 15,000. As part of the deal, Hizbollah would pull out from south of the Litani River, 13 miles from the Israeli border.

But the text is not expected to define when Hizbollah would be disarmed and by whom, as called for in previous U.N. resolutions.

As in earlier drafts, the resolution is expected to include an arms embargo on weapons flowing to militia in Lebanon except for those ordered by the Beirut army and U.N. forces.

A second resolution is expected to follow within a month setting out terms for a permanent cease-fire.

Lebanon also wanted language changes on the disputed Shebaa Farms strip, occupied by Israel. Lebanon claims the territory, which the United Nations says is part of Syria unless Damascus agrees legally to change the border.

Beirut had wanted U.N. peacekeepers to occupy Shebaa on the Syrian-Israeli-Lebanese border until the borders were demarcated but the United States and France dropped this demand.

Source: Reuters