The role of the international force that will be sent to Lebanon following a cease-fire will be to assist the Lebanese army to deploy in the south, ensure that Hezbollah does not rebuild its positions there and ensure that quiet is maintained along the Israeli-Lebanese border, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed yesterday.
However, government sources said, this force will not be responsible for disarming Hezbollah nor will it be stationed at the border crossings between Lebanon and Syria in order to halt the flow of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.
Israel has thereby in effect conceded its initial demands that any cease-fire deal include stripping Hezbollah of its rockets and ensuring that it is not rearmed.
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces took up positions near the South Lebanon town of Al-Khiam last night. The incursion was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage.
Also last night, a Druze Israel Defense Forces battalion was active near Maroun Ras. A platoon commander was lightly wounded during that battle. Lebanese sources reported that a senior Hezbollah operative was killed by an unexplained explosion in Itaroun; Israel declined to comment.
The Lebanese government wants any international force to be a United Nations force, while Israel prefers that it operate under a UN mandate, but not be under the UN's command. The U.S. government is currently drafting a new Security Council resolution that will define the force's goals and powers. That resolution would replace Resolution 1559, which called for disarming Hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese army in the south. The new resolution will also call for Hezbollah's disarmament, but it is not clear who will enforce this provision.
The international force will be deployed in two stages: an intervention force that will arrive within 60 days, followed later by the main force. CNN, citing Lebanese sources, said that the force will initially comprise 10,000 Turkish and Egyptian soldiers, and will later expand to 30,000 troops from several countries.
Due to the talk about a new international force, the Security Council is likely to extend the mandate of UNIFIL, the current UN force in Lebanon, by only another month, instead of the usual six months, UN sources said. UNIFIL's current mandate expires on July 31.
Today, Rice will attend an international conference in Rome to discuss the Lebanon crisis. Government sources predicted that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will tell the conference that any new arrangement in Lebanon must resolve the problem of Shaba Farms, a piece of Israeli-occupied territory that Beirut claims is Lebanese, but the UN says is Syrian. Rice raised this issue with Olmert yesterday, noting that the Lebanese government uses Israel's continued control over Shaba to excuse its weakness.
The IDF General Staff is currently considering expanding its Lebanon operation to include seizing control of territory, instead of just raiding villages.
That would require an additional call-up of the reserves. However, such an expansion has not yet been approved.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said during a visit to the North yesterday that Israel intends to set up a "security zone" in southern Lebanon.
However, his office later said that what he meant was not a permanent Israeli presence, but a kilometer-wide strip north of the border that Hezbollah operatives would be forbidden to enter following the IDF's withdrawal. The ban would be enforced by firing from IDF positions within Israel.
Also yesterday, Hezbollah fired more than 100 Katyusha rockets at Israel, killing a 15-year-old girl.
The IDF believes that despite Israel's ongoing offensive, Hezbollah will be capable of firing rockets for many days to come.
The IDF also completed its takeover of Bint Jbail, in southern Lebanon, yesterday. Army sources believes that some 25 Hezbollah gunmen were killed in the fighting, but dozens more escaped through a narrow corridor that the IDF left open to enable civilians to flee.
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