UNITED NATIONS, AP – The United States and France ran into strong opposition from Lebanon and the Arab world Sunday in their drive for speedy adoption of a U.N. resolution aimed at ending the escalating Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, primarily over the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
Washington and Paris had hoped to put the draft in final form for a Security Council vote Monday. But they delayed action after Lebanon and Qatar, the council’s only Arab member, proposed many amendments to the U.S.-French draft resolution — first and foremost demanding Israel pull its forces out of Lebanon once hostilities end.
The council was scheduled to meet Monday morning when the U.S. and France are likely to present a revised text, taking into account some of the Arab concerns, with a view to a possible Security Council vote on Tuesday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been closed.
“The most important thing for us is to obtain the agreement of the Lebanese government (and) the Arab world,” France’s Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on France-Info radio.
The flurry of U.N. meetings involving Security Council experts and the five veto-wielding council nations was accompanied by phone calls between key leaders trying to end 3 1/2 weeks of combat that have killed more than 600 on both sides, forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and left Lebanon in tatters.
Since fighting began on July 12, the council has failed to take any action, except issuing two statements reacting to Israeli attacks on a U.N. observer post and a building crowded with civilians in Qana. The main obstacle has been U.S. refusal to support an immediate cessation of hostilities without addressing the requirements for a lasting peace.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday urged the council to adopt the resolution, stressing it was aimed at stopping the large-scale violence to allow a focus on the underlying problems in the conflict.
“It’s the first step, not the only step,” she said at a news conference in Crawford, Texas, where she was meeting with President Bush at his ranch.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed her call, saying Sunday’s upsurge in violence highlighted “the urgent need to bring about an end to the hostilities,” Blair’s spokesman said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also “underlined the need for an immediate end to the fighting” in a conversation with Blair, a Kremlin statement said.
Israel’s Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Sunday the U.S.-French draft was good for Israel — but the country still had military goals and would continue its attacks on Hezbollah. Ramon also expressed doubt that Hezbollah would honor the resolution and stop firing.
“Therefore we have to continue fighting, continue hitting anyone we can hit in Hezbollah, and I assume that as long as that goes on, Israel’s position, diplomatically and militarily, will improve,” he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in an interview with Associated Press Television News that “Israel will support a U.N. resolution that will ensure, among other things, that Hezbollah cannot use the cease-fire to rearm, retrain and prepare for another round.”
The U.S.-French draft circulated Saturday calls for “a full cessation of hostilities” based on “the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.”
But the draft makes no explicit mention of an Israeli withdrawal, and implicitly allows Israeli defensive operations. Instead, it calls in the longer-term for a buffer zone in southern Lebanon — which Hezbollah controls and where Israeli troops are now fighting. Only Lebanese armed forces and U.N.-mandated international troops would be allowed in the zone.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said he proposed changes that would include the immediate dispatch of 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to the border area along with a 2,000-member international force under the United Nations, The Washington Post reported.
Their arrival would be nearly simultaneous with a cease-fire and a withdrawal of all Israeli forces and would guarantee that no Hezbollah fighters would be allowed south of the Litani River, he was quoted as saying.
Saniora said he discussed his ideas with Rice, Blair and the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon but has not received a response, the paper reported.
Lebanon’s parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, who represents the Shiite militant group in negotiations, also said the draft was unacceptable because it would leave Israeli troops in Lebanon and did not deal with two other key demands — a release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel and moves to resolve a dispute over the disputed Chebaa Farms area.
“Lebanon, all of Lebanon, rejects any talks and any draft resolution” that do not address the Lebanese demands, Berri said.
Lebanese special envoy Nouhad Mahoud proposed an amendment to the U.S.-French draft that would have Israel immediately hand over the ground it held when fighting ended to U.N. peacekeepers. Within 72 hours, the peacekeepers would assist the Lebanese armed forces to deploy throughout southern Lebanon to the U.N.-drawn boundary with Israel known as the Blue Line.
Mahoud also urged the council to amend the text to call for Israel to immediately hand over the Chebaa Farms area, which it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, “to U.N. custody” until the border is marked. Lebanon claims the area but the United Nations determined that it is Syrian, and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate. Hezbollah uses the Chebaa Farms to claim that Israeli forces still occupy Lebanon.
The draft resolution now asks Secretary-General Kofi Annan to make a recommendation within 30 days on how to deal with the Chebaa Farms issue.
On prisoners, it does not explicitly call for the release of two Israeli soldiers whose abduction sparked the fighting, though it emphasizes the need for their unconditional freedom, and it encourages efforts to settle the sensitive issue of Lebanese prisoners in Israel.