Israel Backs Down: UNIFIL Stays

Israel has lifted its demand for the deployment of a new multinational force in southern Lebanon and agreed that UNIFIL, the United Nations force already in place, would oversee the cease-fire.

In a draft text for a UN Security Council resolution on ending the crisis in Lebanon, agreed yesterday by the United States and France, it was concluded that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon would be replaced by a new force only after Israel and Lebanon reach agreement on the principles of a long-term accord.

In the immediate future, UNIFIL will be reinforced with more troops in order to be able to carry out its new mandate.

At a meeting of the security cabinet last night, a discussion was held on the possible expansion of ground operations in Lebanon. Political and security sources said last night that the major problem currently faced is how to deal with short-range Katyusha rockets, which would require an operation in the area between Tyre and Nabatiyeh.

According to the sources the IDF asked to expand the use of reservists in Lebanon, but at this stage did not request authorization for taking over the area in southern Lebanon between the border and the Litani River.

During the weekend, six civilians, all Arab Israelis, were killed in Katyusha rocket attacks. Five IDF soldiers were killed in fighting in southern Lebanon.

Initially Israel opposed the expansion of UNIFIL's role and asked that it be replaced, arguing that to date its performance was poor and its troops did not prevent terrorist attacks.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week that Israel "will not accept a force of the UNIFIL type, that was proven not to be effective. The force that will be deployed will have to comprise of armies, not pensioners who come to vacation in southern Lebanon, but real soldiers capable of fighting."

Political sources in Jerusalem said last night that Israel received assurances through diplomatic channels that UNIFIL will be bolstered by quality troops from France. The current commander of UNIFIL is a French General, Alain Pelegrini. Currently, UNIFIL has 2,000 men from France, China, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Ukraine.

Political sources in Israel said the deployment of a multinational force in a country requires agreements, and the government of Lebanon announced that following the Qana incident last week that it would refuse a new force.

Broadening the UNIFIL mandate is essentially meant to deal with the Lebanese opposition to a new force at this time.

The UN draft resolution calls for Hezbollah to stop all attacks and for Israel to stop "offensive military operations," but it would allow Israel to defend itself if attacked. A spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush, said yesterday that while Bush was pleased with the progress achieved, there would be a second resolution offered at the UN.

Israeli political sources expressed their satisfaction with the draft yesterday and said it accepted Israel's basic demand that the IDF keep its positions in southern Lebanon and prevent the return of Hezbollah fighters until a multinational force is deployed in the area.

Responding to the draft resolution, one of Hezbollah's two ministers in the Lebanese cabinet, Mohammed Fnaysh, said, "We oppose any cease-fire so long as a single Israeli soldier remains on Lebanese soil."

At this time the government of Lebanon has not reacted to the text of the draft resolution but a spokesman said, "Lebanon will not surrender its sovereignty" and said that "the government demands the lifting of the occupation from Lebanon's land."