UN Lebanon resolution nears

King calls Siniora, reiterates support for Lebanese government plan to help end crisis

The United States and France agreed Saturday on a Security Council resolution calling for fighting between Israel and Hizbollah to end, but on the ground the two sides traded fire and a Hizbollah rocket killed three.

The 15-member UN Security Council will review the text and is expected to adopt it within the next few days.

“This is a first step. There is still much to be done,” said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“But there is no reason why this resolution should not be adopted now and we have the cessation of hostilities… within the next couple of days.” Even if world powers agree on a UN resolution, getting the warring parties to stop fighting may not be easy.

At least 10,000 Israeli troops are inside Lebanon trying to dislodge Hizbollah fighters from the border and stop them firing rockets into Israel.

Hizbollah rocket attacks killed three people in northern Israel and wounded five on Saturday, the 25th day of the war, police and medics said.

Hizbollah Cabinet Minister Mohammed Fneish said the group would stop fighting when Israel ended its bombardment of Lebanon and withdrew its troops.

“Israel is the aggressor. When the Israeli aggression stops, Hizbollah simply will cease fire on the condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land,” he said.

The resolution calls for “the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations”.

A second resolution is envisaged a week or two after the first is adopted, setting down conditions for a permanent ceasefire and authorising an international force.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said President George W. Bush, who is to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later at his Texas ranch, knew details of the resolution and “he’s happy about it”. Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said after a Cabinet meeting that the UN resolution was not final and it was too early to comment on it.

Threat to Sidon

Israeli Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said time was running out for Israel’s military campaign.

“We have the coming days for lots of military moves. But we have to realise the timetable is getting shorter,” he said.

Israel warned residents of Sidon to evacuate south Lebanon’s biggest city ahead of planned air strikes on what it said were Hizbollah offices and rocket-launching sites located there.

An Israeli army spokesman said leaflets dropped on Sidon, whose normal population of 100,000 has been swollen by refugees from fighting further south, had warned all residents to leave.

A local official in Sidon said Hizbollah’s Shiite fighters were not present in the mainly Sunni Muslim city.

Traffic was normal in the city and there were no signs large numbers of people were planning to leave.

“Rocket launchers in Sidon? This is a joke, this is psychological warfare from the state of terrorism, I’m staying here and going nowhere,” said Kamal Wehdi, a university professor who was jogging on the seafront.

Lebanon says a million people, a quarter of the population, have been displaced by the war launched after Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

The conflict killed at least 734 people in Lebanon and 78 Israelis. Hizbollah has fired 2,600 rockets into Israel.

Helicopter-borne Israeli naval commandos attacked Hizbollah fighters near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre overnight.

A senior naval officer, who declined to be identified, said eight commandos were wounded, two seriously, in the operation.

He said the commandos killed seven Hizbollah fighters in close combat. Hizbollah issued a statement denying seven of its men were killed in what it called a failed raid.

Lebanese security sources said four civilians and a Lebanese soldier were killed in the fighting.

Israel said the raid targeted fighters suspected of launching Hizbollah’s longest-range rocket attack of the war — a barrage on Friday that landed 80km inside Israel.

The Israeli army also said one soldier had been killed and one wounded just inside Lebanon overnight when Hizbollah mortar rounds hit their vehicle. They had been hunting for rocket launchers across the border from the Israeli village of Metula.

Arab television stations said another Israeli soldier was killed and six wounded on Saturday in fighting in south Lebanon.

King Abdullah calls Siniora

In Amman, meanwhile, King Abdullah telephoned Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and reiterated Jordan’s support for a plan approved by the Lebanese government to help end the crisis, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

The plan calls for a mutual release of prisoners, Israel’s withdrawal to the demarcated frontier and allowing displaced civilians to return home, the Jewish state’s pullout of the occupied Sheeba Farms and placing the territory under temporary UN control, extending Lebanese government authority throughout all of southern Lebanon, expanding the existing UN force in South Lebanon, reinvigorating the 1949 Armistice Agreement and rebuilding the south.

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