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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert termed the Lebanese decision to move its army southward an "interesting" one that needs to be considered carefully.
At a press conference after a meeting with President Moshe Katsav, Olmert said that since the beginning of the military operation Israel has said its goals were the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army on the border with Israel, and the dismantling of Hizbullah.
Olmert said Israel must carefully weigh to what extent this deployment is practical. There is some concern in Jerusalem that the Lebanese announcement is a ploy to get the IDF to withdraw, while forestalling the deployment of a significant multinational force that would keep Hizbullah from redeploying in the south.
The US State Department said the Lebanese decision was significant.
Spokesman Sean McCormack said deployment of the troops is a necessary step for peace. However, McCormack also said discussion and actual implementation of the idea needs to take place in the context of discussions at the United Nations on an overall approach to the conflict in Lebanon.
"Of course," the spokesman said, "these Lebanese forces would need to be supported by international forces." He said, "it certainly is a significant proposal."
Olmert said that attention should be paid to the fact that Hizbullah agreed to the deployment of the Lebanese army troops, a sign he said indicated a recognition by Hizbullah that its position in the region has been severely weakened.
"The faster we leave south Lebanon, the happier we will be," Olmert said. "Of course we will only do this if we can ensure that we have achieved our goals."
Olmert cautioned patience regarding this development, as well as regarding discussions at the UN, where he said an initial draft on the US-French Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire is still in the making.
Amid reports that the government has held back the IDF and not given it full rein to accomplish its goals in Lebanon, Olmert said that every military plan that has been presented to the government has been approved.
He said that Sunday was the first day that the IDF had proposed to him a military offensive that would go beyond the current lines the IDF is holding in south Lebanon, and that this would be brought to a decision by the security cabinet on Wednesday.
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