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Middle East: Israel Violates Cease-Fire, Arrests Palestinian Official

Lebanese civilians hold a funeral on August 18 in Qana for victims of the recent violence (epa) PRAGUE, August 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Despite a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East there was fighting overnight in Lebanon and anger in the Palestinian territories at the arrest of a top government official.

The violence comes as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is appealing for contributions to a UN force being assembled and tasked with holding the peace in the region.

Israeli commandos launched a raid in eastern Lebanon overnigh, violating the cease-fire that came into effect earlier this week. The Israeli Army said the raid was meant to prevent a delivery of weapons from Iran and Syria to Hizballah fighters in Lebanon.

"We had specific information that a weapons shipment was coming from Syria for Hizballah," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said today. "That is in direct violation of the UN Security Council resolution which established the cease-fire, and we were responding to that violation of the cease-fire. Had the Lebanese forces and the international forces been there at the border as the resolution says they should be preventing such a shipment of weapons, of course, we wouldn’t have had to act.”

The Israeli Army called the raid a success that “foiled terrorist operations against Israel.” Hizballah confirmed the raid, but offered a different account of the fighting claiming to have beaten back and inflicted casualties on the Israeli commandos.

Implementing The Resolution

UN envoys Terje Roed-Larsen and Vijay Nambiar met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh. Sallukh said the Lebanese side was working to implement the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for, among other things, an end to hostilities.

“We are working to implement fully resolution 1701," Sallukh said. "The other side [Israel] should also work to implement this resolution.”

Roed-Larsen said this was a pivotal moment for Lebanon.

“We do see that there are now huge opportunities and there might be a great upside for the Lebanese people and the government of Lebanon in order to continue to solidify and build democracy and to solidify the authority of all the state of Lebanon in all its territory built on the Taif Agreement and also on the very constructive seven-point plan of the government of Lebanon," he said.

The Taif Agreement, signed in 1989, provided the basis for the ending of Lebanon's civil war and the return to political normalcy to the country.

Building An International Force

The Israeli raid and the UN envoys' meetings came just ahead of the landing of some 50 French military engineers at the southern Lebanese port of Naqura.

The French troops are the vanguard of what the UN hopes will be a force of some 15,000 troops sent to reinforce the 2,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which has been in southern Lebanon since 1978, but was totally unprepared and unable to intervene in the recent fighting between Israeli and Hizballah forces.

“I have no dates [for the deployment to go further south]," French Colonel Jacques Colleville told reporters today. " What I can say is this one, the platoon which is coming today, will be used very soon, in less than one week. The rest of the company will arrive in weeks, something like that.”

Despite Annan’s appeal, few countries seem eager to send troops to monitor and, if need be, enforce the UN resolution calling for the cease-fire.

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Grabbed

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials complained about the arrest of Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister and senior Hamas member Nasser al-Shaer today.

Israeli troops entered the West Bank and came to al-Shaer’s home early in the morning, arresting him, and quickly crossing back into Israel.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said it was not an arrest, but a case of kidnapping.

“Kidnapping Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Nasser al-Shaer is Zionist piracy and a violation of international laws and human ethics," al-Masri said. "The Zionist enemy aims to bring the Palestinian people to their knees and bring about the fall of the Palestinian government and political system.”

Israel has taken more than 20 Hamas lawmakers into custody since the late June kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants.

The Israeli Army said al-Shaer was arrested "due to his membership in a terrorist organization."

Huda al-Shaer, al-Shaer's wife, appealed to the international community to come to her husband's aid.

“We plead with everyone, both Arabic and international, to do something because this person is an academic, a minister of education," she told reporters today. "Things are suppose to work, the world is supposed to do something to make the situation better, if God wills.”