Israel's security cabinet agreed Wednesday to expand the ground war in Lebanon to try to deliver a knockout blow to Hezbollah, amid warnings the conflict could last another month or more.The decision by top ministers after a six-hour meeting in Jerusalem came as the Middle East's most powerful army confirmed it had lost 15 soldiers in its biggest single-day toll of the month-old conflict.
Despite urgent pleas from relief agencies for a respite from the fighting to get in desperately needed aid to south Lebanon, Washington said it had no idea when agreement would be reached at the United Nations on the wording of a ceasefire call. "Plans by Defence Minister Amir Peretz and the chief of staff for expanding the operation have been approved by the cabinet," Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai told public radio. "It is believed that it will last another 30 days," Yishai said. "I think it is very difficult to give an estimate, but in my opinion it is not accurate to talk of 30 days. I fear it could last much longer."
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that 15 soldiers had been killed and 38 wounded in fierce clashes with the Shiite militants of Hezbollah that were raging on into Wednesday night. It was the military's biggest single day death toll since Israel launched its offensive against its northern neighbour after Hezbollah fighters captured two soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid on July 12. A total of 80 military personnel have now lost their lives, in addition to 36 Israeli civilians. At least 11 people, including five children, were killed in Israeli air strikes on Lebanon Wednesday.
In northern Israel, residents of Kiryat Shmona were piling on to buses in the first evacuation of an entire town since the creation of Israel in 1948, as a barrage of almost 100 rockets struck from across the border. Israeli troops responded by pushing into adjacent areas of south Lebanon, backed by armour, although a military spokesman denied that the advance was linked to the major offensive ordered by the security cabinet. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah remained defiant, taking to the airwaves again late Wednesday to insist that his movement's arsenal of rockets had not been damaged by the Israeli offensive.
Nasrallah, who has been the target of repeated Israeli assassination attempts, urged Arab residents of Haifa to leave to allow Hezbollah free rein to press its deadly rocket attacks against Israel's third city. As world powers remained at odds over the wording of a UN call for a halt to the fighting, Washington warned agreement could be a long way off. "I think at this point ... it's beyond any of us to come up with a firm prediction about when you get a resolution," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. France has been pressing for changes to a draft Security Council resolution it drew up with the United States to take into account a Lebanese offer to deploy 15,000 government troops to the Israeli border to take over from Hezbollah fighters who have controlled the region for the past six years.
In his televised address, Nasrallah expressed support for the proposal which he said would "help Lebanon and its friends in adapting the UN draft resolution to pave the way... to stop the aggression." But Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said there had been no progress on drafting a new resolution to try to end the conflict, which has killed more than 1,000 people and created a major humanitarian crisis. "There is no progress so far. We are still at the same place," he said after meeting US Middle East envoy David Welch, on a surprise visit to Beirut.
The pair later held a second round of talks but there was still no announcement of progress. French and US diplomats are working on a new draft resolution after Lebanon and Arab nations opposed an earlier text, complaining that it did not call for Israel to withdraw its troops or require it to stop any but offensive operations. Despite its military superiority, Israel's US-backed armed forces have found it much harder than expected to crush Hezbollah, which has continued its rocket attacks.
In France, President Jacques Chirac admitted the United States had "reservations" over the wording of the UN draft but said the conflict threatened the stability of the entire Middle East and that it would be "immoral" for the world to give up demands for an immediate ceasefire. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the talks on a new text as "fluid" and declined to criticise the Israeli decision to widen its ground offensive as discussions continued. "It is a shifting, fluid diplomatic situation. We think there is a solution in sight, we are working hard to get to that solution," McCormack said. Challenged about the security cabinet decision, he said: "I don't comment on military decisions of the Israeli government."
But the White House spokesman said Washington did "not want escalations". "It's a message to all parties," Snow added. Israeli warplanes struck in the north, east and centre of Lebanon Wednesday, hitting roads, bridges, fuel tankers and homes, and later went into action over Beirut. Nine people, including a Hezbollah official, his wife and their five children, were killed when the apartment block where they lived in the Bekaa valley collapsed after a bombing raid. Two people were killed in the first Israeli strike so far on the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh in south Lebanon, which houses 50,000 refugees.
At UN headquarters in New York, French and US diplomats were meeting to review the draft resolution after an Arab League delegation warned the Security Council of civil war in Lebanon if Israeli troops did not leave. "If we adopt a resolution without fully considering the reality of Lebanon we will face a civil war and, instead of helping Lebanon, we will destroy Lebanon," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said. France's UN ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said he expected a resolution to be adopted before the weekend. But a vote has already been delayed from the start of the week and there was growing international impatience.
Source: Middle-esat-online.comGüncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16