Israel agreed to a 48-hour suspension of aerial activity over southern Lebanon after its bombing of a Lebanese village on Sunday that killed a number of children, a US official said.
The attack marred US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's weeklong mission to halt the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah.
While suspending aerial activity, US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli made clear that Israel had the right to "take action against targets preparing attacks against it", reiterating US policy that the Jewish state has the right to defend itself against attack.
"The United States welcomes this decision and hopes that it will help relieve the suffering of the children and families of southern Lebanon," Ereli told reporters traveling with Rice.
'Israel to allow Lebanese to leave region'
The Prime Minister's Office has confirmed that the IDF will halt air strikes over Lebanon for "up to 48 hours," until the army probe into the Qana tragedy is completed. "No targets will be hit, unless they threaten to strike Israel, until the full IDF investigation concludes and after all lessons have been drawn," the PM's Office said in a statement.
"Israel will allow, in coordination with the UN, safe passage for the residents of south Lebanon wishing to evacuate the area within 24 hours, and will also operate ground and sea corridors for humanitarian aid to go through," the statement said.
On Monday morning, Lebanese security sources reported that the IDF struck targets in eastern Lebanon. According to the sources, IAF aircrafts attacked roads near the border with Syria.
IDF officials said in response that the attack was carried out at around midnight, before the announcement on the suspension of air strikes. In any case, they added, striking targets which constitute a threat for Israel will continue.
Ceasefire - not against threatening targets. Air strike (Photo: Reuters)
A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the evolving situation, said Rice had been working on such an agreement for some time before the attack on Qana, Lebanon. The air strike early Sunday killed more than 50 people, including many children.
Ereli said that Israel will coordinate with the United Nations to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for all residents of south Lebanon who want to leave the region. "We expect that Israel will implement these decisions so as to significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid," he added.
UN council: 'Shock' over Lebanon deaths
The UN Security Council called Sunday for an end to violence in Lebanon and expressed "extreme shock and distress" over Israel's bombing of civilians in the village of Qana which killed 56 people, almost all of them women and children.
But the presidential statement, adopted unanimously by the 15-member council in an emergency session, stopped short of condemning the Israeli airstrike Sunday.
The council said it "strongly deplores this loss of innocent life and the killing of civilians in the present conflict" and called for the council to work without delay to adopt a resolution for a lasting settlement of the crisis.
"The Security Council expresses its extreme shock and distress at the shelling by the Israeli Defense Forces of a residential building in Qana, in southern Lebanon, which has caused the killing of dozens of civilians, mostly children, and injured many others," it said.
Attempts by Qatar, the only Arab nation on the council, to strengthen language in the statement prolonged discussions late into the evening before the statement was passed.
But US Ambassador John Bolton opposed any condemnation of the attack.
Bolton repeated the American insistence that any statement must address what the US says is the root cause of the conflict — Hizbullah's continued grip on southern Lebanon and its attacks on Israel.
"Our view for quite some time has been and remains that we need to work toward a permanent solution to the problems in the region and that obviously we are converging to try to find a way to reach that solution," Bolton said.
News agencies contributed to the report