Israeli commandos struck deep into Lebanon Wednesday and snatched five suspected guerrillas in a helicopter raid that provoked the heaviest rain of Hezbollah rocket fire in the 22-day-old conflict. At the same time, Spain's foreign minister flew into Lebanon on the EU's behalf for talks on the crisis.
"We have carried out this operation to prove that we can hit everywhere in Lebanon," army chief of staff Dan Halutz told reporters in the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona after the raid on Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the north and less than 15 kilometers from the border with Syria. The raid was the deepest yet into Lebanese territory. Minutes later, a missile fell near Beit Shean, some 60 kilometers south of the border, Hezbollah's deepest strike yet into Israel.
Police said at least 190 rockets had slammed into northern Israel in what was by mid-afternoon already the biggest single-day barrage from Lebanon since the Jewish state launched its offensive against Hezbollah on July 12. At least 36 rockets struck populated areas, killing at least one person and wounding 19 others. The barrage came a day after Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said the offensive had significantly weakened Hezbollah. "Today, the threat posed by Hezbollah is not what it was. It can no longer threaten this people, as this people have stood up to it and have come out victorious," Olmert said late Tuesday.
Israeli warplanes meanwhile roared back into full-scale action, destroying two bridges in northern Lebanon about five kilometers from the border with Syria and killing three Lebanese soldiers in the southern port of Sidon. Israeli forces were also engaged in a second front further to the north and were seeking to take the village of Aadaisseh, police said. Israel had called a 48-hour partial halt to air attacks after a raid on the Lebanese village of Qana Sunday that killed 52 civilians, most of them children. The deaths caused worldwide outrage and prompted calls for an immediate ceasefire. But Olmert dismissed the calls and Israel broadened its offensive on the ground, pouring thousands of crack infantrymen, paratroopers and reserve units into southern Lebanon. Olmert told British television Wednesday that Israel would continue to fight Hezbollah until an international force -- "an effective force made of combat units" -- is deployed in south Lebanon.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli public radio the offensive in Lebanon would last until the end of next week. "I counsel everyone to show determination and patience and let the army finish the job," Ramon said. "At the minimum, we have until the end of next week to react and try and finish the job." Ramon added that Israel would "not negotiate with terrorists" nor would it "release prisoners to terrorist organizations" -- apparently dismissing any suggestion that it might seek to exchange those captured in Baalbek for two soldiers taken prisoner by Hezbollah on July 12. In a sign of progress, the permanent UN Security Council members embarked on intense talks on the conflict and ambassadors said a resolution setting out a possible settlement was close. "I'm confident that by tomorrow we'll be in a position to have discussions in the council on a text which actually takes us forward," Britain's UN ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry told reporters.
France and the United States had been divided over whether a political settlement should be agreed between Israel and Hezbollah before any international force is sent in. Meanwhile, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos arrived in Lebanon on behalf of the EU and called for an immediate ceasefire in Israel's offensive in Lebanon, followed by the deployment of UN peacekeepers and Lebanese forces along the country's volatile border with Israel.
Moratinos met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and offered EU support to his efforts to end the crisis before traveling to neighboring Syria as part of European Union efforts to end the hostilities.
"Mr. Siniora's plan proposed a political dynamic for all parties and it is important that these goals be achieved as soon as possible," Moratinos said. "It is important that Hezbollah and Israel accept the ceasefire as soon as the Security Council makes its decision," he added, referring to an expected UN resolution.
Besides an immediate ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel, Siniora's plan includes deploying the Lebanese army in the south and barring any group except the official military from carrying arms.
Siniora has also called for the boosting of UN forces in Lebanon and international control of the contested, Israeli-held Shebaa Farms border area. The plan foresees the disarmament of Hezbollah, which was also a plank of a 1989 accord to end Lebanon's bitter 1975-1990 civil war as well as a UN resolution in 2004.
Source: Deutsche WelleLast Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16