Israel expected to approve UN cease-fire Sunday

The government is expected Sunday to approve a UN Security Council cease-fire resolution that creates a significantly beefed-up UNIFIL force which, together with the Lebanese Army, is to create a Hizbullah-free buffer zone from the northern border to the Litani River and to prevent Hizbullah's rearmament. Hours before the resolution was passed by a 15-0 vote in the Security Council, the order was given to significantly expand the military operation in Lebanon, with the apparent aim of reaching the Litani before the cease-fire was declared to clear as much of the areas as possible of Hizbullah fighters and Katyusha launchers. The Lebanese government approved the cease-fire resolution Saturday evening, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said that Olmert would recommend that Israel do the same in the cabinet. If the cabinet does so, the cease-fire would likely go into effect on Monday. The resolution calls for "the immediate cessation by Hizbullah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." However, the cease-fire does not ensure an end to the fighting, as Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his organization would fight "as long as Israeli soldiers are in Lebanon." Israel diplomatic officials, meanwhile, made it clear that the cease-fire called for an end to "offensive military operations," but that Israel would certainly react if Hizbullah attacked. The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were satisfied with the resolution, which was described as meeting Israel's "essential demands." Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres praised the UN decision, saying that it "restores the authority to the Lebanese government, ends the weapons supply to Hizbullah and distances Hizbullah from the border, brings the deployment of 30,000 Lebanese soldiers and international forces, and calls unequivocally for the release of the kidnapped soldiers." Olmert phoned US President George Bush early Saturday morning to thank him for helping to preserve Israel's interests in the Security Council. The resolution was the product of a week of intensive diplomatic wrangling between the US and France. The process also led to revelations of disagreements between Olmert and Livni, with Olmert nixing Livni's request to go to the UN near midnight on Thursday and take part in the debate. Livni is expected to brief the media after the cabinet meeting Sunday, and to deny that there is any rift between her and Olmert, or that Olmert's decision was based on political considerations. Sources close to Olmert denied as "nonsense" reports that this was what motivated his decision. Livni is considered his major potential political rival inside Kadima. In addition to calling for a cessation of hostilities, the resolution calls upon the Lebanese Army - and an enhanced UNIFIL with up to some 15,000 troops - to deploy in southern Lebanon. The force was given expanded powers of enforcement. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that it would be made up of "serious" forces, with a large contingent from France, another from Italy and possibly a NATO contingent as well. Only once the force deploys does the resolution call on the IDF to begin withdrawing, an element that Israel sees as extremely important. The resolution also calls for no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government, and no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government. The UNIFIL role will be to "monitor the cessation of hostilities," and to "accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South, including along the Blue Line, as Israel withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon." The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "put in place measures" to ensure UNIFIL is able to carry out the functions envisaged in this resolution. This force is to "assist" the Lebanese government in taking control of its entry points "to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel." The resolution also reiterates that Security Council Resolution 1559 needed to be implemented, a resolution that calls for the disarming of Hizbullah. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said that although it was unlikely that either the Lebanese Army or UNIFIL would immediately dismantle the organization, something that Israel also has not succeeded in doing, Israel's security would be enhanced by the fact that Hizbullah has taken a significant operational blow over the last month, and would not - according to terms of the resolution - be able to rearm. The resolution also called for security arrangements to be put into place to prevent a resumption of hostilities, "including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL." The resolution also blamed the hostilities on Hizbullah, saying that its July 12 attack led to the fighting, and called for the unconditional release of the captured IDF soldiers. It did not demand that they be exchanged for Lebanese in Israeli jails, including the terrorist Samir Kuntar. The resolution mentions the Shaba Farms issue both in the preamble and in the resolutions, but does not call on Israel to return the disputed area, saying rather that the issue would be discussed at a later time. The Foreign Ministry has set up a team to monitor implementation of the resolution.