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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel rejected calls from Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora for a cease-fire Wednesday night, even as the fighting in Lebanon entered its second week.
"Our answer is for a return of the kidnapped soldiers, and implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Assi Shariv said in response to the cease-fire calls.
Instead of a cease-fire, the security cabinet met Wednesday morning and issued a statement saying that "the intensive fighting against Hizbullah will continue, including attacks on Hizbullah infrastructure and command posts, its operational abilities, its armaments, and the leadership of the organization."
Despite this statement, government sources said that some cracks have appeared between Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni regarding the degree to which an emphasis should now be placed on trying to move a diplomatic process forward to put an end to the crisis.
While Olmert was concentrating on pounding Hizbullah, Livni, said government sources, wanted to see this complemented by a serious diplomatic process. The sources said it was only natural for Livni to take this position, since she was in constant contact with her colleagues abroad and was hearing their concerns about a "disproportionate Israeli response."
Olmert, according to these sources, was focused primarily on the military aspect of the campaign.
Voices have been raised in the Foreign Ministry warning that as the fighting wears on, and pictures of collateral damage from Lebanon are broadcast throughout the world, support for Israel will drop and Jerusalem will be in a weaker position regarding its ability to set conditions for a cease-fire.
The security cabinet spelled out these conditions Wednesday: The unconditional return of the captured soldiers, an end to the rocket fire on Israel and the complete implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which includes the complete dismantling of the armed militia in Lebanon, the extension of Lebanese sovereignty throughout the country and deployment of the Lebanese army along the border with Israel.
Despite being more focused on the diplomatic situation than Olmert, Livni made it clear during a Jerusalem press conference with visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana that the diplomatic contacts underway would not interfere with the IDF's operations. She said that the harder the IDF hit Hizbullah, the easier it would be later for the Lebanese government and the world to implement Security Council Resolution 1559.
In the international community, however, the blows the IDF is delivering in Lebanon are raising questions of "proportionality," an issue that Solana addressed both in his meeting with Livni, and afterwards at a joint press conference.
"Proportionality is not a mathematical concept," Solana said. But, he added, one issue that had to be addressed was whether the Israeli actions "put more suffering on people than necessary to obtain an objective."
Solana, who was in Lebanon on Sunday, said, "I see the suffering of people, and don't see what it has to do with the battle against Hizbullah. This is my concern, and a concern I tried to share with my friends in Israel."
Asked whether he personally thought Hizbullah should be placed on Europe's list of terrorist organizations, Solana replied: "I don't have any doubt that they have produced acts that are identified as terrorist, but that is not enough for us to put them on the list of terrorism."
He said that this was not a moral, but rather a legalistic, issue.
Livni responded to his comments about proportionality by saying it was something that must be judged in terms of the overall threat Hizbullah posed, and not "as an answer to a [single] incident."
In Livni's view, the IDF's actions must be seen not in response to last Wednesday's incident, but rather in response to the threat of 15,000 missiles pointed at Israel.
Reuters, meanwhile, reported that Assad made his call for the international community to arrange a cease-fire during a telephone conversation he held with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
"The conversation covered the international stance and how the international community is procrastinating on imposing a ceasefire and ending the crisis," the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
Saniora also called for an immediate cease-fire during a meeting with foreign ambassadors.
Regarding Assad's call, one senior diplomatic source dismissed it as "bizarre."
"It is ridiculous that the person calling for a cease-fire is the one who is providing Hizbullah with rockets, and sheltering [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal in Damascus," the senior source said. "I think it's a sign that Assad is concerned, and that Bush's comments have had an impact."
In widely broadcast off-microphone marks, Bush used blunt language earlier this week in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to say that the United Nations should be pushing Syria to get Hizbullah to stop its actions.
Meanwhile, even as Livni said Israel was exploring various ideas about how to augment Lebanese army troops so they could effectively take control of south Lebanon at some point, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres told Solana that an international force there would be largely ineffective.
"No international force can prevent the existing situation in which the entire area adjacent to the Israeli-Lebanese border, on the Lebanese side, is lined with large explosives and unmarked mines," Peres said. "An international force cannot stop missiles flying in the air."
Peres added that Israel has not requested that any country "send soldiers to defend us. Israel is right, strong and steadfast in its steps."
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that one idea being discussed, and pushed by Paris, is for France - which has a strong historic connection to Lebanon - to form the bulk of a multinational force that would help the Lebanese government reassert control in the southern part of the country.
Meanwhile, Olmert spoke Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, thanked her for Germany's support at the G-8 earlier this week and apologized for having to postpone a trip to Germany that he was scheduled to make next week.
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