Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Friday, August 11, 2006
Reports from New York say agreement is close on a draft text calling for the Israeli military to withdraw from southern Lebanon in stages, as a combined force comprising 15,000 Lebanese Army troops and U.N. peacekeepers deploys in the area.
What happens to the Shi'ite terror group Hizballah, however, remains unclear.
The 2004 U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 calls for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."
The Lebanese government has violated the resolution by failing to disarm and disband either non-Lebanese (Palestinian) militias or Lebanese ones, the most prominent of which is Hizballah.
"Had the parties involved fully implemented 1559, which called for the disarmament of Hizballah, we would not be in the situation we're in today," President Bush told reporters in Crawford earlier this week.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fauzi Salloukh has argued against the need for the terrorist group to disband, saying it is a "national resistance movement" and not a militia, and thus not covered by resolution 1559.
The Lebanese Army, whose commander is a pro-Syrian Hizballah sympathizer, has taken a similar position, and experts appear to agree that the army will make no move to disarm the terrorists, given the large number of Shi'ites in its ranks.
The State Department has made it clear that the envisaged international stabilization force will not be mandated to disarm Hizballah.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a media interview last week: "I don't think there's any expectation that the international force is somehow going to disarm Hizballah."
Instead, the task would be carried out by the Lebanese government, assisted as appropriate by the international community.
Rice says the government in Beirut has "made very clear that they understand their obligations to disarm Hizballah. And so what we have to do is to support the process in Lebanon by which the Lebanese government has full authority and in which Hizballah is disarmed."
Rice cites a point made by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at a conference in Rome late last month, when he said there could not be a return to the status quo ante, and that all armed authority had to be held by the government.
The international community had to help the government achieve that goal, she said.
Rice told Time magazine disarmament had to be planned.
"You don't disarm a militia by locking up their people and taking away their guns. You have to have a plan for it," she said.
"You have to have the orderly disarmament of people. You have to have someplace to return them. Some of these people have probably done nothing but fight their entire lives. So there has to be a plan for doing this and I'm confident that the Lebanese government very much wants to get this done."
The Australian government said earlier its willingness to contribute troops to a multinational force in Lebanon was conditional on the force's mandate including the disarmament of Hizballah.
Hizballah was set up by Iran in 1982 and continues to be armed and supported by Tehran, via Syria.
In a recent Iranian television interview, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, senior Iranian politician and former Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohsen Rezai scoffed at the idea that the group could be disarmed.
"Disarm Hizballah? Who would dare? Who has the power to disarm Hizballah?" said Rezai, who now serves as secretary of the Expediency Council, a consultative body appointed by "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Today Lebanon is in the hands of Hizballah. The security of Lebanon - even the security of the streets and alleys in Lebanon - is run by Hizballah," he said. "The border and the sea are in the hands of Hizballah."
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