Israel may send troops into Lebanon

Israel says it is prepared to fight Hezbollah for several more weeks and possibly send ground forces into Lebanon

Israel may send troops into Lebanon

Israel says it is prepared to fight Hezbollah for several more weeks and possibly send ground forces into Lebanon, raising doubts about the chances of growing international efforts to broker an immediate cease-fire.

Two of Israel's top military commanders said on Tuesday that the war could be lasting a few more weeks and that Israel could be deploying ground forces into Lebanon.

"I think that we should assume that it will take a few more weeks." Major General Udi Adam, the head of the army's northern command, told Army Radio.

Major General Moshe Kaplinski, the army's deputy chief of staff, said Israel had not ruled out deploying "massive ground forces into Lebanon."

With fighting between Israel and Lebanon stretching into its seventh day, Israeli warplanes struck an army base outside Beirut and other areas in south Lebanon, killing 17 people, and Hezbollah rockets battered towns across northern Israel, killing one person.

Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, which has killed at least 235 people in Lebanon and 25 in Israel, continued on Tuesday, as a UN mediation team met with Israeli leaders a day after speaking with Lebanese officials in Beirut.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, who met the delegation, said a cease-fire would be impossible unless the soldiers captured by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid last week were released and Lebanese troops were deployed along the border with a guarantee that Hezbollah would be disarmed.

In Washington, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said that any cease-fire should be based on fundamental changes that would have a lasting impact on the region.

"We all want a cessation of violence. We all want the protection of civilians. We have to make certain that anything that we do is going to be of lasting value."

"Iran's trick"Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that "the start of negotiations will not stop this operation, only the return of the kidnapped soldiers will."

The week-old offensive was sparked by the soldiers' capture, and Olmert said Iran, a patron of Hezbollah, was behind the raid to distract the world and the G8 summit from the country's nuclear programme. "To my regret, Iran's trick succeeded, everybody remembers the G8 decision on the subject of Lebanon and are not dealing with the Iranian issue."

Israel's offensive was initially aimed at freeing the soldiers; but has broadened into a larger campaign to neutralise Hezbollah.

Ground forces

Israel has been reluctant to send
in its ground troops to Lebanon

Israel, which has mainly limited itself to attacks from the air and sea, had been reluctant to send in ground troops because Hezbollah is far more familiar with the terrain and because of still-fresh memories of Israel's ill-fated 18-year-occupation of south Lebanon that ended in 2000.

But General Kaplinski said Israel had no intention of getting bogged down in the region a second time.

"We certainly won't reach months, and I hope it also won't be many more weeks. But we still need time to complete the operation's very clear objectives," he said.

Tony Snow, the white house spokesman, declined to react to Kaplinski's comments, but said the administration was not happy with the current situation.

"A cease-fire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable," he said. "So what we're trying to do is work as best we can toward a cease-fire  that is going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region."

UN force

Meanwhile, a proposal to send a new international force to bolster the current 2,000-member UN force in south Lebanon gained steam.

The Israeli offensive is in its
seventh day now

Western nations have proposed the beefed-up force as part of a possible cease-fire agreement, and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, said in Brussels that a new force must be "considerably" larger and better armed than the current force, which is viewed as weak and ineffectual.

Livni said securing south Lebanon "requires activity by the Lebanese government, with the oversight (and) assistance of the international community."

Rice, too, called for the introduction of a strong peacekeeping operation. She said Israel's experience with the current UN force was "not satisfactory," and it prefers no such force in the long-term, but left open the possibility of a temporary force.

In his statement, Olmert belittled the current force in Lebanon, but said he would be cautious about discussing the new force. "It seems to be its too early to debate it," he said.

Avi Dichter, Israeli cabinet minister, meanwhile, said the country may consider a prisoner swap with Lebanon to win the soldiers' release, but only after the military operation is complete.

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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