Tense Quiet in Israel, Lebanon As Ceasefire Takes Effect

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, August 14, 2006

Tense Quiet in Israel, Lebanon As Ceasefire Takes Effect

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A tense quiet emerged in southern Lebanon and northern Israel on Monday, the first day of a U.N.-imposed cease-fire aimed at ending more than a month of fierce fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hizballah.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that both the Israeli and the Lebanese governments had accepted the ceasefire resolution, which took effect at 8:00 a.m. local time here.

People in northern Israel were warned to stay in bomb shelters and security rooms as a precaution. But the prospect of a cease-fire tempted some residents out of the stuffy underground shelters where they've spent the past month.

Despite the cease-fire, there were reports of gunfire between Israeli soldiers and Hizballah fighters on Monday morning.

The Israeli cabinet approved U.N. resolution 1701 in a unanimous vote on Sunday, with former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz abstaining.

Mofaz voiced his objections to the resolution because it did not guarantee that the abducted Israeli soldiers would be returned to Israel nor that Hizballah would be dismantled.

The cornerstone of the U.N. resolution -- as far as Israel is concerned -- is the Lebanese pledge to deploy its army and the international pledge to deploy an expanded and robust international force in southern Lebanon in place of Hizballah.

"Hizballah will no longer be a country within a country, and the Lebanese government from now on will have to take responsibility for what comes out of their country," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli cabinet ministers on Sunday.

He said that there would be a "major change" in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which will be deployed in southern Lebanon to help the Lebanese government take control of the southern part of the country.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she was not "naive." "I know that not every decision in the Middle East gets implemented," said Livni. "But I still say it's good for Israel. It can lead to the real change in the Middle East that we have all been waiting for, if the international community implements the decision."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the question is how Hizballah reacts. But he added that Israel is prepared for "all the scenarios." Peretz also warned that if Hizballah breached the ceasefire, Israel would respond without restraint.

On Monday morning, the Israeli Air Force reportedly dropped leaflets on Beirut, warning the Lebanese citizens that it would retaliate for any Hizballah attacks against Israel and asking if they wanted to pay the price for provocations.

The two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizballah in a cross-border attack on July 12 - the event that started the war - were mentioned only in the U.N. resolution's preamble.

Although the resolution refers to previous resolutions calling on Lebanon to disarm militant groups, it does not specifically call on Lebanon to disarm Hizballah.

Right-wing Knesset Member Effi Eitam also expressed his opposition to the resolution.

"Everyone knows that this ceasefire doesn't mean much," the Jerusalem Post quoted Eitam as saying. "It is not a true accomplishment. It won't succeed in resolving anything substantial, because it does not disarm Hizballah and does not guarantee that our kidnapped soldiers are coming home."

But Eitam did say that Israel had "real accomplishments" in the war. "We have struck a huge blow to the Hizballah through our armed forces."

Lebanon, meanwhile, cancelled a cabinet meeting on Sunday that was supposed to discuss the disarmament of Hizballah south of the Litani River - 18 miles from the Israeli border -- because Hizballah refused to participate.

Lebanese Tourism Minister Joe Sarkiss said in an interview with Al Jazeera that his country's army would not deploy in southern Lebanon "unless there are no arms in the south except those of a legitimate military force and UNIFIL."

U.N. Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto was quoted over the weekend as saying that the U.N. force could begin deploying within a week to 10 days.

Naval, air blockade remain

The Israeli army said on Monday its has suspended its "offensive operations" in Lebanon following the Israeli government decision to accept U.N. resolution 1701.

Israeli troops will stay in southern Lebanon until the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon take control of the area, the army said. When that happens, the Israeli army will deploy along its internationally recognized northern border.

During this time, the army pledged not to initiate attacks against Hizballah but said it would continue to employ means to defend its forces and Israeli civilians.

Security sources said that the aerial and naval blockades would remain in place "until a system is established to monitor and prevent the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon."

Israel imposed a naval blockade and bombed the runways of Beirut's airport in the first days of the way, to prevent Iran and Syria from re-supplying Hizballah during its fight against Israel.

In the hours before the cease-fire took effect, air raid sirens sounded in northern Israeli communities and Israeli Air Force planes struck targets in Beirut and elsewhere.

Fighting intensified over the weekend, as Hizballah fired more missiles on northern Israel (250 on Sunday), killing at least one civilian and wounding a number of others. Israel made its last push toward the Litani River - its intended goal. Thirty-one Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce fighting over the weekend.

The Israeli Air Force dropped leaflets over Lebanon over the weekend listing the names of dead Hizballah fighters and telling the Lebanese that Hizballah was lying to them.

"Nasrallah is lying to you, hiding the heavy losses in Hizballah's ranks. Below is a partial list of names, denied by Nasrallah, of those killed by IDF forces," the flier read.

It listed 180 dead Hizballah terrorists. The army estimates that more than 530 Hizballah terrorists have been killed since the start of fighting. The army has broken into broadcasts on Hizballah's television station Al-Manar and radio station Nur to broadcast the names to the Lebanese public.

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