VIDEO - In the shadow of continued air strikes and ground offensive in southern Lebanon, the Israeli government is undertaking an operation of its own. Within the course of one day, Sunday, the government buildings will be graced by French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Dr. Kim Howells.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz met Sunday morning with Steinmeier.
"We are continuing military operation, and we also intend to create as broad a diplomatic operation as possible. The objectives that we set for ourselves will be met. We definitely see a combination of the existing military activity and a complimentary international operation," said Peretz at the end of the meeting.
During the meeting the defense minister stressed that the issue of the kidnapped soldiers is key to resolving the conflict. Peretz discussed with his German counterpart the possibility of stationing an international force in southern Lebanon, but stated that this force will have to posses substantial enforcement capabilities, hinting to UNIFIL's impotency in the region. Peretz reiterated that Israel has no intention of launching military action against Syria.
The two sides reported of a pleasant atmosphere in the meeting. The main purpose of the German foreign minister's visit to Israel, officials said, was to observe the difficulties up close and see how his country can assist in resolving the conflict. It appears that Germany decided not to exert pressure on Israel to end the fighting in Lebanon.
At the end of their meeting the ministers agreed to keep an open channel of communication between them.
Sunday morning marked the beginning of a week-long marathon of diplomatic meetings, during which foreign officials from various countries are slated to arrive in an attempt to help solve the crisis in the north. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will arrive on Monday and is scheduled to meet with the prime minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday.
'Key to solution to be found in Beirut'
In light of these meetings, sources in Jerusalem said that "the key to the solution will be found in Beirut." This is the official position that they will be taking to meetings with the visiting foreign officials.
The position also maintains that Israel doesn't intend to bend to international pressure for a ceasefire before its objectives in Lebanon – release of kidnapped soldiers, removal of Hizbullah in southern Lebanon and deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in the region – have been achieved.
In the meantime, officials at the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday morning rejected the claim that British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the weekend and expressed his concern over the escalation in the situation. The report appeared in the British Observer newspaper, but Olmert's aides made it clear that no such conversation was held.
Ronny Sofer contributed to the report