Israel Rejects Ceasefire Calls in Lebanon War

Israel rejected mounting international pressure on Monday to end its war against Hizbollah and launched a new incursion into Lebanon despite halting most air raids for 48 hours.

Israel Rejects Ceasefire Calls in Lebanon War

With world powers still at odds over a ceasefire, a U.N. official said a meeting scheduled for Monday on a new peacekeeping force for Lebanon had been delayed "until there is more political clarity" on the path ahead in the 20-day-old war.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday there would be no ceasefire in the war in the coming days.

"The fighting continues. There is no ceasefire and there will not be any ceasefire in the coming days," Olmert told local officials, drawing sustained applause.

Civilians fled battered villages in southern Lebanon after Israel agreed partially to halt air strikes for 48 hours, and aid convoys headed into the area to deliver supplies.

Rescue workers found 28 bodies buried for days in destroyed buildings in three south Lebanon villages, the Red Cross said.

The Israeli military said it had launched a new ground incursion into Lebanon, moving troops into the Aita al-Shaab area. Hizbollah said its guerrillas were engaging the advancing force in fierce fighting.

Israeli jets dropped two bombs to support troops battling Hizbollah inside Lebanon and artillery shells hit two southern villages. A Lebanese soldier died and three were wounded when another Israeli air strike destroyed their vehicle. And a drone destroyed a truck at the main Lebanon-Syria border crossing.

Hizbollah said its guerrillas hit an Israeli warship with rockets off the coast of the south Lebanese port city of Tyre on Monday, prompting celebratory gunfire to ring out in Beirut. But an Israeli security source said no warship had been hit.

INTERNATIONAL OUTCRY

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a ceasefire could be forged this week. But Israel said the war was not over despite an international outcry over the deaths of at least 54 civilians, most of them children, in an Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday.

"If an immediate ceasefire is declared, the extremists will rear their heads anew," Defence Minister Amir Peretz told a heated parliamentary debate in which four Israeli Arab lawmakers were escorted out for heckling. One called Peretz a murderer.

Despite its pause in air raids from early on Monday, Israel said it may still use aerial strikes to target Hizbollah leaders and rocket launchers and back up ground operations.

Senior Israeli officials said the government wanted to pursue its military offensive until an international force arrived to stop Hizbollah exploiting any pause to regroup.

Once approved by the U.N. Security Council, the first contingent of a stabilisation force could be in south Lebanon within days, Israeli officials and Western diplomats said.

But international divisions remain. The United States, which blames Hizbollah for the war, is refusing to back calls for an immediate ceasefire. U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated that he wants a sustainable end to the violence.

"We will work toward a plan in the United Nations Security Council that addresses the root causes of the problem," he said.

After the Qana raid Lebanon called off planned talks with Rice, telling her to secure an unconditional ceasefire first.

"As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent ceasefire and lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week," Rice told reporters in Jerusalem.

France welcomed Israel's air strike freeze but said it was not enough. Paris, seen as a potential leader of any force in south Lebanon, has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire and signalled that Iran should be brought into efforts to bring peace to Lebanon.

Russia criticised the delay in calling for a truce.

SHELLS HIT ISRAEL

Hizbollah fired two shells into the northern Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona on Monday, but nobody was wounded.

It was the first Hizbollah bombardment of Israel since Sunday evening -- a distinct lull compared to the scores of rockets they had previously fired daily.

A senior Israeli government official said an estimated two-thirds of Hizbollah's long-range missile capabilities had been destroyed in the conflict.

Israel launched its onslaught on Lebanon after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

At least 577 people have been killed in Lebanon, although the health minister puts the toll at 750 including bodies still buried under rubble. Fifty-one Israelis have been killed.

As well as partially suspending air strikes, Israel gave 24 hours for residents to leave and to get aid to the worst-hit villages. Two U.N. aid convoys left Beirut for Tyre and Qana.

Civilians drove towards the southern port city of Tyre, 20 km (13 miles) north of the border, white flags fluttering from their cars, buses and pickup trucks.

In clashes near the border three Israeli soldiers were wounded when a missile hit their tank, the army said.

Hizbollah said it had destroyed two Israeli tanks and damaged a third. It also said it had lost four fighters. (Additional reporting by Beirut, Jerusalem, U.N. bureaux).

Source: Reuters

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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