A new obstacle was raised in the approval of the proposed cease-fire agreement between Israel and Lebanon on Thursday night, when the latter was refusing to allow French forces to enforce its mandate by force, if necessary, as allowed by the UN’s chapter VII regulations.
Israel Radio reported that attempts were being made to convince Lebanon to agree to the proposal.
If both Lebanon and Israel agree to the proposal, it is expected to brought before the UN Security Council for ratification within 24 hours.
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US State Department envoy David Welch held meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Thursday night to coordinate positions on a new cease-fire proposal to be brought to the UN Security Council, perhaps as early as Friday.
Welch arrived in Jerusalem from Beirut, where he held talks with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that the US, which was working furiously with the French in New York to come to an understanding on a draft resolution, would press forward with their own proposal if agreement could not be reached with the French on the language of the document.
US Ambassador John Bolton said there could be a vote Friday on the resolution.
“We’re making progress, and it’s entirely possible we could have a vote tomorrow,” Bolton said after a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. “We’ve closed some of the areas of disagreement with the French.”
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy confirmed there was progress, but also held out the possibility that if no agreement was forthcoming, France might present “a text on its own.”
Livni spoke Thursday with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and stressed the importance of including in the resolution an arms embargo to Hizbullah, as well as Israel’s key demand that the Lebanese army must be supported by an international force with “operational capabilities.”
Among the ideas being discussed was a “substantially beefed up UNIFIL” force to be made up of German, Italian, Spanish and Australian troops that would move south to the border with the Lebanese Army and deploy where the IDF moves out. Another idea was for a French force to accompany the Lebanese Army.
Senior sources in Jerusalem said, however, that there has been a major shift in the French position over the last week, with French President Jacques Chirac hesitant about committing French troops after seeing the difficulty Israel has had with Hizbullah over the last month. France was initially the major force working for deployment of an international force.
Israel has made clear in recent days that the resolution must include the unconditional release of the kidnapped IDF soldiers, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls for the dismantling of Hizbullah, and that there be no call for Israel to cede control over Mt. Dov (Shaba Farms) as part of this arrangement.
While Prime Minster Ehud Olmert indicated before the war that he would be willing to come to an agreement about this issue, he has made clear that the Shaba Farms could not be included in any deal being drawn up now so as not to be perceived as a prize for Hizbullah.
Giving the US the ability to “work the issue” and put the proposal together was apparently behind American pressure on Israel to delay Wednesday’s security cabinet decision to push forward toward the Litani River. That decision gave Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz authority to decide when to embark on the campaign.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller met Olmert Thursday and quoted him as saying that “a new proposal is being drafted, which has positive significance that may bring the war to an end. But if the draft is not accepted, there is the Cabinet decision.”
Peretz said Thursday that Israel would see the diplomatic process through before giving the final okay for an expanded IDF operation.
“We are responsible for considering all options,” he said. “The minute troops set out to accomplish a mission, we must look in the eyes of every mother, every father, and every child and say: We exhausted all other options,” Peretz said.
Peretz made his comments during a visit to the Lebanese border with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen Udi Adam.
If diplomacy fails, Peretz said, Israel would “use all of the tools” to dismantle Hizbullah.
US officials stressed Wednesday and Thursday that while they support Israel’s right to defend itself and to choose how to do so, Washington did directly call on the Israeli government to hold off the expansion of the military operation until the diplomatic efforts were exhausted.
The security cabinet’s decision to widen the operation Wednesday, dependent on a final okay from Olmert and Peretz, led the US to publicly disagree with Israel for the first time since the war broke out.
Following the decision, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that moving deeper into Lebanon did not correspond with American policy.
“We want an end to violence and we do not want escalations,” Snow told reports at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
According to diplomatic officials in Israel and in Washington, the US was concerned that a widespread military offensive on behalf of Israel could undermine attempts to reach a new agreement between the US and France over a UN resolution.
In New York, meanwhile, The US and French ambassadors met with their Russian, Chinese and British counterparts Thursday to discuss the latest cease-fire draft.
France backed Lebanon’s call for IDF troops to start pulling out once hostilities end and Lebanon deploys 15,000 troops of its own in the south. The United States, however, supported Israel’s insistence on staying in southern Lebanon until a robust international force was deployed, which could take weeks or months.
Nathan Guttman and AP contributed to this report.