Da The Age del 10/08/2006
Originale su http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/israel-suspends-ground-offensive/2...

Israel suspends ground offensive

Jerusalem - Israel has put its new military campaign in Lebanon on hold to give diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire another chance, an Israeli Cabinet minister and senior officials said today.

Israel's Security Cabinet yesterday approved an expanded ground offensive in Lebanon, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to put the campaign on hold for two or three days.

The decision was taken to see whether diplomatic efforts would produce results, a senior Israeli government official said on condition of anonymity.

Asked by Israel Radio about the plans for such a delay, Cabinet minister Rafi Eitan said: "There are diplomatic considerations.

"There is still a chance that an international force will arrive in the area. We have no interest in being in south Lebanon.

"We have an interest in peace on our borders.''

With world powers divided on a UN resolution to try to end the war, the Israeli army said 15 of its soldiers and 40 Hezbollah guerrillas had been killed on one of the bloodiest days of fighting in the four-week-old conflict.

Israeli television said the bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guards had been found among guerrillas slain in southern Lebanon. There was no independent confirmation.

"You won't be able to stay in our land, and if you come in, we'll force you out, we will turn our precious southern land into a graveyard for the invading Zionists," Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

"We want an end to all the aggression but if there must be a showdown, then we welcome a showdown in the field."

He warned Arab residents of Haifa to leave to avoid being hurt by Hezbollah rocket attacks on the Israeli city.

Earlier, Israeli television and Lebanese witnesses said armoured columns were moving into southern Lebanon under cover of intensive artillery fire.

The Israeli army said the push was to quell Hezbollah rocket fire from the town of al-Khiam and would not go beyond the current area of military operations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet authorised a plan to send troops further, possibly to the Litani river, up to 20kms from the border.

A senior political source said the expanded offensive could last 30 days.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Israel had a right to defend itself from Hezbollah but that Washington was very concerned about the humanitarian situation and Israel "must take the utmost care" to avoid civilian casualties.

The Israeli move could complicate UN diplomacy to halt the fighting, though western diplomats said Israeli officials had assured them the army was prepared to halt the wider campaign within days if an agreement was reached at the United Nations.

A Tel Aviv University poll showed 93 per cent of Israelis believed the campaign in Lebanon was justified, and 91 per cent backed the air strikes even if they destroyed Lebanese infrastructure and inflicted suffering on civilians.

Diplomats are still working on a UN resolution aimed at ending the war but no Security Council vote seems imminent.

US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch held talks in Beirut as part of efforts to win agreement for such a resolution, but appeared to have made little headway.

"All he is carrying is cosmetics for what remains a very ugly resolution," Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a key Shi'ite politician and Hezbollah ally, said after talks with Welch, who also met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora twice.

Lebanon wants an immediate ceasefire and a quick pullout of Israeli troops from the south, where it says 15,000 Lebanese soldiers backed by UN peacekeepers can move in.

Nasrallah said an initial draft resolution that did not call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal was "unjust and oppressive and gives the Israelis more than they wanted and demanded".

The US and France differ on when an international force, expected to be led by France, should move in and when Israel should withdraw.

Israel says it will only withdraw when a foreign force and the Lebanese army take over to keep Hezbollah at bay, and the US backs this position.

"The operating principle is that you don't want to leave a vacuum in southern Lebanon," McCormack said.

"You don't hand the keys back to the terrorists who started all of this."

French President Jacques Chirac threatened to introduce his own resolution if no compromise was reached but said he hoped there could still be an agreement.

"I can't imagine that there would be no solution ... which would be the most immoral result, that we accept the current situation and that we abandon an immediate ceasefire," he said.

Israel's Channel 10 television quoted diplomatic sources as saying dead Iranian fighters had been identified in Lebanon by documents found on their bodies, but gave no further details on how many were discovered or when.

Neither the Israeli military or Hezbollah representatives in Beirut had immediate comment.

Iran, like fellow Hezbollah patron Syria, insists it gives only moral support to the Shi'ite guerrilla group.

At least 1,005 people in Lebanon and more than 100 Israelis have been killed in bloodshed which erupted when Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Israeli forces pushed deeper into parts of Lebanon despite fierce Hezbollah resistance, Lebanese security sources said.

The sources said four Israeli soldiers had been killed in a rocket attack in the village of Aita al-Shaab and seven more died when Hezbollah blew up a booby-trapped house near the village of Debel, 5 km (3 miles) from the border.

Israeli planes bombed targets across Lebanon. Five people died in a raid in the Bekaa Valley town of Mashghara, medics said.

Two people, including an 11-year-old boy, were killed in air strikes on a Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon.

More rockets hit northern Israel and four landed in the occupied West Bank. No casualties were reported.

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