(photo credit: Associated Press)
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution seeking a "full cessation" of violence between Israel and Hizbullah, offering the region its best chance yet for peace after a month of fighting that has killed more than 800 people and inflamed Mideast tensions.
The resolution, adopted unanimously, authorizes 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon as Israeli forces that have occupied the area withdraw.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the "hard work of diplomacy" was only beginning with the passage of the resolution and that it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence. She said the United States would increase its assistance to Lebanon to $50 million and demanded other nations stop interfering in its affairs.
"Today we call upon every state, especially Iran and Syria, to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community," Rice told the council. Iran and Syria back Hezbollah and supply it rockets and other weapons.
"We will now end to work very hard," Rice told reporters afterward. "This is a first step but it is a good first step.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials as soon as possible to determine the exact date of a cease-fire.
The Security Council resolution leaves out several key demands from both Israel and Lebanon in efforts to come up with a workable arrangement.
Despite Lebanese objections, Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations a term that Arab diplomats fear the Israeli military will interpret widely. A dispute over the Chebaa Farms area along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border will be left for later; and Israel won't get its wish for an entirely new multinational force separate from the U.N. peacekeepers that have been stationed in south Lebanon since 1978.
There is also no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or a demand for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Although the draft resolution emphasizes the need for the "unconditional release" of the two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hezbollah sparked the conflict, that call is not included in the list of steps required for a lasting cease-fire.
Diplomats said the negotiators' main goal had been to come up with a draft that spells out a lasting political solution to the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border. The standoff has bedeviled the region for more than two decades.
At the heart of the resolution are two elements: It seeks an immediate halt to the fighting and it spells out a series of steps that would lead to a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution.
That would be done by creating a new buffer zone in south Lebanon "free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL" the acronym of the U.N. force deployed in the region since 1978. The force now has 2,000 troops; the resolution would expand it to a maximum of 15,000.
South Lebanon had been under de facto control of Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, for several years until Israeli forces occupied parts of it after the start of the fighting last month. The political solution would include implementation of previous Security Council resolutions calling for Hezbollah's disarmament.
Under the resolution, UNIFIL, the U.N. force in south Lebanon, would be significantly beefed up to help coordinate when 15,000 Lebanese troops deploy to the region. As Lebanese forces take control of the south, Israeli troops would withdraw "in parallel."
Israel is chiefly concerned that Hezbollah not be allowed to regain its strength in south Lebanon once a cessation of hostilities goes into effect. It had originally demanded the creation of a new multinational force separate from UNIFIL, which it claimed was powerless.
The resolution gives Annan one week to report back on how well it has been implemented. The council leaves open the possibility of another resolution to further enhance UNIFIL's mandate and other steps to achieve a permanent cease-fire.
The draft also asks Annan to come up with proposals within 30 days on resolving various border disputes including the one over Chebaa Farms. Lebanon had wanted a direct demand in the draft that Chebaa Farms be put under U.N. control.
Diplomats at the UN said the adoption of the resolution must spur them to solve the wider conflict in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians. The Lebanon war has overshadowed the turmoil there, caused by the capture of an Israeli soldier on June 25.