UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -The UN Security Council has met behind closed doors to discuss Israel’s military offensive in Lebanon but the United States cautioned against expecting action to stop the bloodshed before the return of a UN mission this week.
The 15-member council picked up from talks Saturday when it failed to reach agreement on a call for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, with Lebanese envoy Nouhad Mahmoud blaming the United States.
The council was to weigh a call by world powers for a truce between Israel and Hezbollah and the deployment of an international stabilization force. More than 200 people have been killed in Lebanon in the attacks over the past week.
But US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters before heading into the closed consultations Monday that the council would not act until the return of a UN mediation team from the Middle East.
“We’ll wait the return of the secretary general’s mission in the region,” Bolton said. “Perhaps by Thursday we could get a direct briefing in the Security Council from the staff delegation and decide where we go from there.”
“I think it’s very important that with events unclear and fast moving as they are, the Security Council not do anything to unsettle the matter further,” the US envoy said.
The Americans have been reluctant to press Israel to end attacks on Gaza and Lebanon after the abduction of three Israeli soldiers in separate raids by Hezbollah and Palestinian militants.
Meanwhile, a UN team trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah had achieved “some promising first efforts” to end hostilities and was heading to Israel to convey “concrete ideas” said Vijay Nambiar, special political adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in Beirut.
Leaders of the G8 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia and the United States — meeting in Saint Petersburg, on Sunday proposed the deployment of an international stabilization force in south Lebanon.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that the proposed force must have more bite and “far greater” numbers than the 2,000-strong UN observer mission (UNIFIL) already in south Lebanon.
“The mission will have to be far more specific and clearer, and the force employed will have to be far greater,” Blair told reporters, adding however that it would “take time” for it to deploy.
At the United Nations, Bolton explained US reluctance to push for a ceasefire at this time and again defended Israel’s military action in Lebanon as “self-defense”.
“I think that the question of the legitimate exercise of self-defense (by Israel) is something that has to be considered very clearly,” he noted. “And I think before you get to a ceasefire you have to look at what the causes of the conflict are.”
“I think you would have a cease-fire in a matter of nanoseconds if Hezbollah and Hamas would release the kidnapped victims and stop engaging in rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism against Israel,” Bolton said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday said a ceasefire would only be considered on condition that Hezbollah release two captured Israeli soldiers, Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli towns end and that the militia be disarmed in line with a UN Security Council resolution.
But Hezbollah on Monday rejected the Israeli terms.
“We accept no conditions for a ceasefire, whatever the pressure,” Abdullah Kasir, a member of Hezbollah’s central committee, said.
He added that the two Israeli soldiers, abducted in a cross-border raid last Wednesday, were in “a secure place” but did not specify whether they were still in Lebanon.
He said the two Israelis were snatched as bargaining chips to demand a prisoner exchange with Israel, which is holding dozens of Lebanese and thousands of other Arab detainees in its jails.
Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Guehenno, under secretary general for UN peacekeeping operations, and Ibrahim Gambari, UN undersecretary general for political affairs, briefed the council on the latest developments in Lebanon.
They focused on the impact of the violence on UNIFIL, whose current six-month mandate expires July 31.