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French President Jacques Chirac
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
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Lebanon urges UN to demand Israeli withdrawal
Lebanon insists US-French draft resolution includes article demanding Israel withdraws its troops from captured territory once fighting ends

Lebanon urged the UN Security Council on Sunday to revise a draft resolution aimed at ending the Israeli-Hizbullah fighting to demand that Israel pull its forces out of the country once hostilities end and hand over its positions to UN peacekeepers.

 

The proposal was one of many suggested amendments to the resolution that was circulated Saturday by the United States and France. The

draft no mention of an Israeli withdrawal. It calls for "a full cessation of hostilities" based on "the immediate cessation by Hizbullah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."

 

Security Council experts went over the draft for several hours Sunday and diplomats said there was a widespread feeling that it did not sufficiently take Lebanon's concerns into account.

 

Qatar, the only Arab member of the council, introduced a host of amendments, including Lebanon's call for an Israeli withdrawal, and other council members proposed changes as well, the diplomats said.

 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the council to adopt the resolution, stressing that it was aimed at stopping the large-scale violence to allow a focus on the underlying problems in the conflict.

 

"It's the first step, not the only step," she said at a news conference in Crawford, Texas, where she was meeting with President George W. Bush at his ranch.

 

US Ambassador John Bolton and French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere met Sunday afternoon to consider the proposed amendments. Later, they met with ambassadors of the three other veto-wielding permanent council nations - Russia, China and Britain.

 

UN peacekeeping

 

Under the proposal put forward by Lebanese special envoy Nouhad Mahoud, Israel would immediately hand over the ground it held when fighting ended to UN Peacekeepers.

 

Within 72 hours, the peacekeepers would assist the Lebanese armed forces to deploy throughout southern Lebanon, which is now controlled by Hizbullah, to the UN-drawn boundary with Israel known as the Blue Line.

 

Hizbullah and its allies rejected the US-French text of the UN Resolution, saying its terms for a halt in fighting did not address Lebanon's demands.

 

Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, who represents the Shiite Islamic group in negotiations, said the draft was unacceptable because it would leave Israeli troops in Lebanon and did not deal with Beirut's key demands - a release of prisoners held by Israel and moves to resolve a dispute over a piece of border territory.

 

Draft rejected by Lebanon

 

"Lebanon, all of Lebanon, rejects any talks and any draft resolution that do not address the Lebanese demands," Berri said.

 

Hizbullah's two key allies, Iran and Syria, also rejected the resolution - suggesting they backed a continued fight by the guerrillas.

 

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who visited Lebanon on Sunday, declared that the US-French ceasefire plan was "a recipe for the continuation of the war" unless Israeli troops withdrew.

 

Lebanon also urged the council to amend the text to call for the immediate withdrawal of Israel from the disputed Shebaa Farms area and hand it over "to UN custody pending delineation of the border in this area between Lebanon and Syria."

 

Israel seized the Shebaa Farms area in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and still occupies it. Lebanon claims the

area but the United Nations determined that it is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.

 

Hizbullah uses the Shebaa Farms in its justification that Israeli forces still occupy Lebanon.

 

"The thing to be done is to ask the Israelis to leave with the cessation of hostilities," said the Arab League's envoy to the UN, Yahya Mahmassani.

 

"The presence of Israeli troops on Lebanese soil ... is considered an occupation - that's not something that would prevail in Lebanon."

 

Israel happy with draft

 

Israel's Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Sunday the US-French draft was good for Israel but the country still had military goals and would continue its attacks on Hizbullah.

 

Ramon also expressed doubt in an Israel Army Radio interview that Hizbullah would honor the resolution and stop firing.

 

"Therefore we have to continue fighting continue hitting anyone we can hit in Hizbullah, and I assume that as long as that goes on, Israel's position diplomatically and militarily, will improve."

 

The US-French draft spells out the elements for a lasting peace between Lebanon and Israel, with a ceasefire monitored by international troops.

 

If passed, it would be the first international response to the crisis and raise hope of ending 3 1/2 weeks of combat that has killed more than 600 on both sides, forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, and left Lebanon in tatters.

 

The principles and elements spelled out in the draft include marking the border in the Chebaa Farms area,

establishing a buffer zone between the Litani River and the Blue Line where only Lebanese and international forces would be allowed, disarming all militias, and extending Lebanese government authority throughout the country.

 

It also calls for an international embargo on the sale of arms to Lebanon, except as authorized by its government.

 

The US-French draft says that once Israel and Lebanon have agreed in principle to these elements, the council will adopt another resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter authorizing deployment of a UN-mandated international force to help implement a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the crisis.

 

Council diplomats who attended the experts meeting on Sunday said China objected to the reference to Chapter 7 - which deals with actions including military force to respond to threats to international peace.

 

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

 

China proposed the same wording that was used in the recent resolution imposing limited sanctions on North Korea for its missile tests.

 

It said the Security Council was "acting under its special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."

 

The diplomats also said there was wide agreement that the US-French draft was not balanced, and that more needed to be included to address the seven-point plan put forward by Lebanon.

 

It includes an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire based on Israel's withdrawal behind the Blue Line, undertakings to release Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and put Shebaa Farms under UN Jurisdiction, extending Lebanese government authority throughout the territory, beefing up the UN International force in southern Lebanon and providing international help to rebuild Lebanon.

 

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