Olmert endorses 2-km buffer zone

PM: An international force with "real muscle" should be deployed across the border.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday that he favored the establishment of a two-kilometer-wide strip between Israel and Lebanon that would be cleared of Hizbullah presence. A day after Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed support for the formation of such a buffer zone, Olmert outlined for the first time what type of corridor Israel intends to create in the North. The prime minister told MKs that an international force with "real muscle" should be deployed across the border. "We need a force that has real military ability to enforce peace, not a force like UNIFIL," Olmert said, referring to the United Nations forces that have been deployed in southern Lebanon since 1978. Olmert said the "full backing" that Israel had received from the international community through the G-8 was "unheard of" for the past 30 years. Referring to his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Olmert stressed that Israel would welcome an international peace-keeping force but was not yet ready for a cease-fire. "I am unwilling to compromise and call a cease-fire now and suffer Katyusha [rockets] once again," said Olmert. Olmert also said that Israel preferred to engage Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in dialogue before it would release prisoners in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. "I have said this to the media and I have said it to the families: I will only release prisoners through dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas, in order to strengthen him in the eyes of the Palestinian people," Olmert said. "However, the time now is not ripe to release prisoners."