Hizbollah downs Israeli copter as Lebanon approves UN resolution

Jordan says truce vote first step to end bloodshed

BEIRUT (Reuters) — Israeli forces battled Hizbollah fighters in a push deeper into Lebanon on Saturday and up to 17 Israeli soldiers were reported killed, as both sides said they would obey a UN resolution on a truce — but not yet.

Hizbollah fighters shot down an Israeli helicopter in southern Lebanon, Hizbollah’s Manar television, a Lebanese security source and Israel’s army said. It was the first aircraft that the army has said was shot down in Lebanon since the war began.

Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters  would abide by Friday’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a “full cessation of hostilities” once the timing of the truce was agreed and once Israeli forces also adhered to it.

Israel would halt offensive operations in Lebanon at 0400 GMT on Monday but would continue to engage Hizbollah in areas where the army was operating, a senior government official said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also said the offensive would end on Monday but did not specify a time.

Helicopters lifted hundreds of Israeli troops into south Lebanon as part of an expanding offensive launched even though Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has backed the UN vote. Olmert was expected to ask his Cabinet to approve the resolution on Sunday.

Lebanon’s government unanimously approved the resolution in a session on Saturday, Lebanon’s prime minister said.

Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, Israel’s top general, said Israel had tripled its forces in Lebanon since Thursday.

Arab television stations said 17 Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday, which would be the highest single-day death toll of the war for the Israeli military.

Israeli television earlier reported seven soldiers killed — five in fighting and two crushed beneath an Israeli tank.

The Israeli army said more than 50 soldiers had been wounded. It said it had killed more than 40 Hizbollah fighters in the last 24 hours and destroyed several rocket launchers.

Hizbollah denied it had lost 40 fighters in the clashes.

Israeli air strikes killed up to 20 people on Saturday, Lebanese security sources said. Hizbollah fired at least 65 rockets into Israel — a considerable decrease from recent days — lightly wounding several people.

“Once there is an agreement to stop the hostilities or the military operations, the resistance will abide by it,” Nasrallah said in a speech broadcast on Manar television.

But he added: “As long as there is Israeli military movement, Israeli field aggression and Israeli soldiers occupying our land… it is our natural right to confront them, fight them and defend our land, our homes, and ourselves.” He said Hizbollah would cooperate with Lebanese and UN troops due to be deployed in south Lebanon under the Security Council resolution adopted on Friday to end the month-old war.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice she hoped fighting would end within “a day or so” of a ceasefire being agreed. “[UN] Secretary General [Kofi] Annan is working with the parties to establish a timetable for a ceasefire, but I would hope that within no more than a day or so of that there would be a cessation of hostilities on the ground,” she said.

US President George W. Bush welcomed the resolution, saying Hizbollah and its sponsors Iran and Syria had brought an “unwanted” war to the region. Bush said the UN resolution aimed to “put an end to Iran and Syria’s efforts to hold the Lebanese people hostage to their own extremist agenda”.

A UN envoy said earlier the United Nations expected the Israeli assault to wind down in one to two days and an expanded international force to begin deploying in a week to 10 days. “We are not starting from zero,” Alvaro de Soto, the UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said, adding that several countries had offered contingents for the force.

In Amman, Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit said the UN resolution was a “first step” to ending the bloodshed.

“It is a first step, we hope, to stop the bloodshed which is the priority now,” Bakhit told reporters following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The UN resolution authorises up to 15,000 UN troops to move into Lebanon to enforce a ceasefire. France is widely expected to lead the force, which will expand the existing UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), but have a stronger mandate.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy made clear in an interview with Le Monde newspaper that the mission of the larger UNIFIL would not include disarming Hizbollah by force.

“We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hizbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.” UNIFIL said a Ghanaian peacekeeper had been wounded by Israeli artillery fire near the southern village of Haris.

Relief officials said Israel was still denying permission for aid convoys to reach distressed civilians in south Lebanon.

Air strikes in the south killed up to 15 people in the village of Rshaf and four civilians in Kharayeb, security sources said. Raids in the Bekaa Valley killed one civilian. Major General Udi Adam, head of the Israeli northern command, said some Israeli forces had reached as far as the Litani River in Lebanon. He said at least 500 Hizbollah fighters had been killed so far in the conflict. Hizbollah has announced fewer than 100 deaths.

At least 1,061 people in Lebanon and 131 Israelis have been killed in the war that began after Hizbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.


Main points

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Herewith the main points of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 on ending the Israel-Hizbollah war, as passed Friday: 

The Security Council calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.

‘Upon full cessation of hostilities, calls upon the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL [the UN Forces in Lebanon] … to deploy their forces together throughout the south and calls upon the government of Israel, as that deployment begins, to withdraw all of its forces from southern Lebanon in parallel.

It ‘emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory… so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon. The council also calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbours.

It further calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:

— Full respect for the Blue Line by both parties.

— Security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.

— Full implementation of past agreements requiring  the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese Cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.

— No foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government.

— No sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorised by its government.

— Provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of landmines in Lebanon in Israel’s possession.

The council decided in order to supplement and enhance the force in numbers, equipment, mandate and scope of operations, to authorise an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops, and that the force shall:

A. Monitor the cessation of hostilities.

B.  Accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the south, including along the Blue Line, as Israel withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon.

C. Coordinate its activities… with the government of Lebanon and the government of Israel.

D. Extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

E. Assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps towards the establishment of the area as referred to in paragraph 8.

— As requested by Lebanon, the Security Council authorises UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities of any kind [and] to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.

It also urges member states to consider making appropriate contributions to UNIFIL and to respond positively to requests for assistance from the force, and expresses its strong appreciation to those who have contributed to UNIFIL in the past.

The council calls upon the government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests UNIFIL… to assist the government of Lebanon at its request.

It decides further that all states shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft, (a) the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories, and (b) the provision to any entity or individual in Lebanon of any technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items listed in subparagraph (a) above, except that these prohibitions shall not apply to arms, related material, training or assistance authorised by the government of Lebanon or by UNIFIL.

The council expresses its intention to consider in a later resolution further enhancements to the mandate and other steps to contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution.

It also requests the secretary general to report to the council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and subsequently on a regular basis.

And it finally stresses the importance of, and the need to achieve, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on all its relevant resolutions

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