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Rice urges U.N. vote to halt Lebanon fighting

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday it is important to get a vote on a U.N. resolution in the next day or two to clear the way for a halt to large-scale violence in southern Lebanon.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday it is important to get a vote on a U.N. resolution in the next day or two to clear the way for a halt to large-scale violence in southern Lebanon.

U.N. Security Council envoys are attempting to put the finishing touches on a draft resolution from France and the United States calling for a halt to fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas and setting terms for a settlement to the conflict.

If that resolution can be quickly voted on, Rice told reporters, “I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence.”

Earlier, the Lebanese parliamentary speaker, a prominent Shiite who has been negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah, rejected the U.S.-French draft U.N. cease-fire resolution on Sunday because it did not include the government’s plan for ending the fighting.

Nabih Berri said Lebanon would not accept any terms that did not include a government plan calling for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops.

“Lebanon, all of Lebanon, rejects any talks or any draft resolution that does not include the seven-point government framework,” Berri said at a news conference in Beirut.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora first offered the plan, later adopted by his Cabinet, during the Rome crisis summit July 26.

The seven-point proposal calls for a mutual release of prisoners held by Israeli and Hezbollah and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon. It foresees the Lebanese government taking control of southern Lebanon with the help of an international force.

The U.S.-French proposal, which was expected to go to the floor of the U.N. Security Council early this week, calls for Hezbollah to stop all military operations and for Israel to stop its offensive drive against Lebanon. The proposal would allow Israel to strike back if Hezbollah were to break a cease-fire.

The draft resolution does not require an immediate Israeli withdrawal to its side of the common border.

Berri: Resolution favors Israel
“We always spoke about an immediate cease fire. We never spoke about ending military operations because this is in a way like legitimatizing the occupation, as if the war is being legitimatized,” Berri said in fiery remarks before opening the floor to questions.

He said the U.S.-French draft resolution was fundamentally tilted in favor of Israel.

“If Israel has not won the war but still gets all this, what would have happened had they won” the war, Berri asked.

The central demand of the U.S.-French plan, agreed to after days of difficult negotiations, is “a full cessation of hostilities” under which Hezbollah must stop all attacks, and Israel must stop all offensive attacks. That’s a victory for Israel because its military is not prohibited from defensive operations, a term that can be interpreted broadly.

Lebanon has indicated it opposes that stipulation because the resolution includes no timetable for Israel to withdraw thousands of troops from southern Lebanon, an area that has been under Hezbollah control for several years.

The U.S.-French plan envisions a second resolution in a week or two that would authorize an international military force for the Israel-Lebanon frontier, creation of a large buffer zone in southern Lebanon free of both Israeli troops and Hezbollah militants, monitored by the Lebanese army and international peacekeepers.

It demands Hezbollah’s disarmed and the clear delineation of Lebanon’s borders, especially in the disputed Chebaa Farms area, occupied by Israel since 1967.

An arms embargo would block any entity in Lebanon except the national government from obtaining weapons from abroad. That’s aimed at blocking the sale or supply of arms to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria, which are believed to be the militia’s main backers.

Some Lebanese demands ignored
The text ignores several Lebanese demands, including a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, a halt to all Israel attacks, not just offensive operations; and placing the disputed Chebaa Farms area under U.N. control. It also does not order the immediate lifting of a blockade imposed by Israel after the fighting began 26th days ago.

While the draft seeks the “unconditional release” of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, it is weaker on Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. It only encourages efforts “aimed at settling the issue” of those prisoners. Lebanon had wanted those prisoners released, or for the U.N. to arrange a prisoner swap.