The UN Security Council inched closer to substantive involvement in the Lebanese crisis Thursday as Secretary-General Kofi Annan placed the blame for the violence on Hizbullah's unprovoked attacks while slamming Israel for its "disproportionate response."
"Hizbullah's provocative attack on 12 July was the trigger of this crisis," he told the Security Council after meeting with envoys he had sent to the region earlier this week.
"Whatever other agendas they may serve, Hizbullah's actions, which it portrays as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interests, in fact do neither. On the contrary, they hold an entire nation hostage [and] set back prospects for negotiation of a comprehensive Middle East peace," he said.
Despite this, he said, while "Hizbullah's actions are deplorable and, as I've said, Israel has a right to defend itself, the excessive use of force is to be condemned." He said that while Israel's stated objective was to hit Hizbullah's infrastructure, it had "torn [Lebanon] to shreds." He said the IDF's actions were not weakening popular support for Hizbullah but rather the government of Lebanon.
"The very government which Israel wants to extend its control throughout the territory has itself become a hostage to the crisis," he said, calling for an immediate cease-fire.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman, however, told a press conference afterward that there would be no cease-fire. He also said he was disturbed that "one word which was, curiously, totally missing from that report was the word 'terror.'"
"The first thing that must be addressed is cessation of terror before we even talk about cessation of hostilities," Gillerman said.
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton agreed, saying, "No one has explained how you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists." He did say, however, that it was time for the Security Council to start considering a response.
The Jerusalem Post has learned, meanwhile, that the French have circulated a "non-paper" among the five permanent council members that would create a "humanitarian truce" instead of a cease-fire. The proposal includes the creation of a security corridor in southern Lebanon that would be patrolled by a multinational force, manned in great part by the French and possibly falling under the authority of the Security Council.
The ultimate goal would be for this force to complement Lebanese troops, who would move south to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
Diplomatic officials said a truce might be more palatable to Israel than a cease-fire, because it would be less permanent and dependent on developments on the ground.
"An expanded peacekeeping force would help stabilize the situation, working with the Lebanese government to help strengthen its army, and deployed fully throughout the area," said Annan.
He admitted for the first time that "the continuation of UNIFIL in its current configuration and with its current mandate is not tenable." UNIFIL's mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, and Israel has long argued that the body was ineffective.
Annan spelled out the elements he said would need to be incorporated in an agreement to end the crisis:
The release of the captured IDF soldiers
An expanded peacekeeping force
Implementation by the Lebanese government of Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680 to establish Lebanese sovereignty and control.
Convening a donor framework to secure funding for an urgent package of aid, reconstruction and development for Lebanon
Formation of a mechanism to monitor and guarantee the implementation of all aspects of the agreements
An international conference to endorse a delineation of Lebanon's international borders, including a final resolution of all disputes, especially concerning the Shaba Farms
Annan called on Israel to "establish safe corridors for humanitarian workers and relief supplies to reach the civilian population."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Thursday night that Israel would allow the opening of such a corridor, with the assistance of the French, to bring in humanitarian supplies from Cyprus.
At a meeting he held with National Security College cadets, however, Olmert gave no indication he was leaning toward a truce or a cease-fire. "The question is not what percentage [of Hizbullah] we have pulverized," he said, "but rather whether the threat has been lifted. This is a test of Israel's stamina, and all of our neighbors are watching us. We need patience, because there will be highs and lows."