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Israel Steps Up Offensive Despite UN Resolution

Israeli reservists march toward the Lebanese border (epa) PRAGUE, August 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Israel has tripled the number of ground troops operating in Lebanon, just hours after the United Nations finally approved a resolution aimed at resolving the five-week crisis.

The resolution calls for a full cessation of hostilities between Israel and the militant group Hizballah followed by the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon "at the earliest" opportunity. The plan envisages the deployment of 15,000 international troops to Lebanon's southern border, which should also be guarded by 15,000 Lebanese Army troops.

The mandate of the UN troops would be to monitor the Israeli withdrawal and help the Lebanese army keep the peace.

In addition, the Lebanese government is to prevent any weapons from flowing to Hizballah.

The dramatic increase in the number of Israeli troops follows an expansion of its ground offensive on August 11.

The Israeli army's chief, Dan Halutz, says that the ground offensive will last until a cease-fire is implemented, and indicated that the ground offensive could continue for another week.

Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah says his group will abide by a cease-fire when a date is set and if adhered to by Israel.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says he plans to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials as soon as possible to establish a timetable.

Lebanon's government has indicated it will accept the resolution at a meeting later on August 12. The Israeli cabinet is expected to follow suit on August 13.

Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the text appeared to contain all the right elements.

"It guarantees that Hizballah will not be able to return to the border area, it will prevent the re-arming of Hizballah by Iran and Syria, and it of course commits the international community to the full disarmament of Hizballah as a military organization," Regev said. "For those reasons I believe the cabinet will approve the decision and it will be moving forward on this political process."

A UN envoy to the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, says he hopes the first contingent of UN peacekeepers will be deployed in Lebanon within days. He added, however, that no timetable has yet been set and that the UN force will rise to full strength only gradually.

The UN currently has 2,000 peacekeepers in Lebanon.

De Soto said the UN troops and Lebanese forces will be deployed simultaneously along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Though Israel has stepped up its military campaign, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reported some easing in conditions for its humanitarian work. It says that, after two days of denying access, the Israeli military allowed an ICRC-chartered ship to dock in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre.

The ship unloaded 200 tons of humanitarian aid, including 200,000 food packages, 50 tons of flour, medication, and also fuel.

Reports suggest that 19 civilians were killed during the day, most of them in southern Lebanon.

U.S. President George W. Bush praised the UN resolution, and urged the international community to turn words into action and to make every effort to bring lasting peace to the region.

He reiterated earlier accusations that Hizballah, Iran and Syria are to blame for starting the "unwanted war" in Lebanon.

(compiled from agency reports)

The Middle East Crisis

The Middle East Crisis
Israeli tanks poised on the border with Lebanon on August 2 (epa)

CLASH OF ARMS: Since mid-July, Israel has been battling Hizballah guerrillas in southern Lebanon and carrying out punishing air strikes throughout the country. International efforts to broker a cease-fire have met with one obstacle after another, as civilian casualties mount and a humanitarian crisis unfolds. Since Hizballah is closely supported by Syria and Iran, the conflict threatens constantly to develop into a regional conflagration.... (more)


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