Debate on int'l force delayed

UN will convene on matter when "political picture in the region becomes clear."

condy rice 88 (photo credit: )
condy rice 88
(photo credit: )
The debate over the establishment of a multi-national armed force southern Lebanon to quell the violence in the region, was postponed by the UN on Monday until an unspecified later date. The UN will not convene on the matter "until the political picture in the region becomes clear," said a UN official. On Monday morning US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement in which she welcomed the halt in aerial attacks, urging a "lasting settlement" in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel through a UN Security Council resolution this week. According to Rice, the deal should include the deployment of the international armed force under the control and in conjunction with the Lebanese Armed Forces; the disarmament of terrorist groups; and the deployment of LAF on the Syrian border so as to prevent the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups from that country.
"I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free of attack from terrorist groups in Lebanon," Rice told reporters before departing for Washington. The top US diplomat said she has been "deeply grieved by the tragic losses we have witnessed, especially the deaths of children, Lebanese and Israeli. Too many families have been displaced from their homes. Too many people urgently need medical care or are living in shelters." Rice did not make any mention of the kidnapped IDF soldiers. Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said in response, "We will not accept any offer before an immediate and complete cease-fire. Rice is giving Olmert more time." Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that despite the decision to suspend the air campaign for 48 hours, the war in Lebanon has not ended. "If the war ends today, it would be a victory for Hizbullah and global terrorism and would have far reaching consequences," he told Army Radio. "I'm convinced that we won't finish this war until it's clear that Hizbullah has no more abilities to attack Israel from south Lebanon. This is what we are striving for," he said. While Sunday's IAF missile attack on Kafr Kana has made Rice's diplomatic efforts to gain a sustainable cease-fire more difficult, it will not change the parameters of that agreement, both Israeli and US officials said Sunday. Rice heard of the attack during a morning meeting in Jerusalem with Defense Minister Amir Peretz. She discussed the incident at length in the evening with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at their second meeting in two days. Nevertheless, after the meeting with Peretz, Rice reiterated that although she wanted to see a cease-fire in place as soon as possible, "the parties have to agree to a cease-fire, and there have to be certain conditions in place." She made clear that the day's events did not change her position that an immediate, unconditional cease-fire was not the answer. "We have to realize that we cannot have a circumstance in which there is a return to the status quo ante, in which there is a zone in southern Lebanon in which a terrorist can violate the Blue Line, and create the kind of devastating circumstances that we see today," she said. "And we would not be very responsible if we were not attending to those circumstances as well as working as urgently and as quickly as we can to get the fighting stopped." Government officials said that while the Kafr Kana incident would not likely impact on the continuation of the current military operations - something that both Olmert and Peretz made clear Sunday - it would undoubtedly be a turning point in the world's perception of the conflict. Sources in Olmert's office said that the Har Dov (Shaba Farms) issue did not come up in the discussions with Rice. The issue did figure prominently in talks she held with Olmert last week, with the US "counseling" Israel to negotiate a possible withdrawal from the area as part of a long-term arrangement for Lebanon. The issue also was reportedly raised in Rice's meeting with Peretz Sunday morning, before the Kana news broke. Peretz told the cabinet Sunday that he was fundamentally opposed to linking this issue with a cease-fire, because then Hizbullah would be able to claim this as a victory. He said the current operation had nothing to do with this issue. Chief of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen Amos Yadlin said that while Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora wanted to include Har Dov in an overall agreement, as a way of showing that Lebanon gained something from the current conflict, Hizbullah was paradoxically opposed, because if this issue were resolved then the organization's reason for existence - fighting Israel's "occupation of Lebanon" - would cease to exist. Rice cancelled a planned visit to Lebanon on Sunday, saying, "in the wake of the tragedy that the people and the government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut." Rice, during her press conference, deflected a question that blamed Israel for scuttling her diplomatic efforts, saying that she was fully aware when she came here that "I am working on this issue in the midst of ongoing military operations. I am quite aware that there are many dangers associated with military operations. I might note that there are, of course, rocket attacks continuing against Israel, as well." Asked whether she was not disappointed that Israel did not listen to her repeated pleas for caution, Rice said, "I think that we all recognize that this kind of warfare is extremely difficult, because in fact it is warfare within territory in which civilians are residing. It is extremely difficult. And it unfortunately has awful consequences sometimes, and these are awful consequences."