Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Olmert and Rice on Sunday
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Olmert: Halting activities an Israeli initiative
In meeting with US secretary of state, Rice raises demand for a humanitarian corridor. Only later, in internal consultations, state officials decide to halt air strikes for 48 hours. Air Force to continue to operate over Lebanon on Monday, striking targets threatening north
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert clarified Monday morning that the decision to halt Israel's air strikes for 48 hours was the fruit of an Israeli initiative and not a "capitulation" to the United States' demands.


Sources at the Prime Minister's Office told Ynet on Monday morning that the Americans only asked for the creation of a humanitarian

corridor through which refugees will be able to leave southern Lebanon and head north, but Israel decided to suspend its strikes in order to allow an investigation into the Qana village bombing, which killed 60 civilians, including 27 children.


On Monday, Ynet learned about the details which led to the temporary ceasefire. The discussion on the village of Qana issue began on Monday in the urgent meeting initiated by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after she remained in Jerusalem and did not travel to Beirut as planned.


The start of the meeting between the two was extremely tense, and the secretary of state asked for clarifications on the tragic incident and tried to understand why Israel failed to prevent it.


The talk between the two lasted for about two hours, during which Rice asked to launch a humanitarian corridor for refugees left in southern Lebanon. She in fact demanded that the prime minister allow the removal of refugees from the fighting zones, in order to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents as the one which took place in the village of Qana.


According to sources at the Prime Minster's office, the continuation of talks between the two was much more relaxed. Despite the pressure being applied by the Americans and European states, the American secretary of state expressed willingness to support Israel's stance on the issue of a ceasefire, which will be stable enough to hold for a long time as Rice declared last week.


During the conversation, the Israeli-American demands were discussed in order to hold a ceasefire, and agreements between the two sides were expressed by the secretary of state during her statement in Jerusalem Monday morning.


After the meeting between the two, the American and Israeli crews met to discuss the details of the understanding and the diplomatic activity. Close to 9 p.m. Sunday the secretary of state met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in order to discuss the diplomatic views of the necessary process, ahead of a meeting of the UN Security Council this coming Wednesday.


The main issue, according to a senior Jerusalem source, was the diplomatic demand which could lead to a decision in favor of the technique Israel and the United States sought to lead a ceasefire which would commence only when an international intervention force would arrive, by next week.


The European stance, on the other hand, seeks a call by the Security Council for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire, as the Lebanese government is demanding.


Close to 10 p.m. on Sunday the prime minister ordered his military secretary, Gadi Shamni, to deal with the immediate military aspects of the Lebanese issue. Major-General Shamni worked with the IDF, and concluded, according to sources at the Prime Minister's Office, that Israel will add the delay of attacks by 48 hours to the demands of the secretary of state to create a humanitarian channel to evacuate refugees.


After agreeing on the details, the details were passed over to an envoy of the secretary of state.


At this stage, a "PR error' took place. Close to midnight, Rice's envoy announced that Israel was ending attacks for 48 hours and would allow a humanitarian channel for the evacuation of refugees. The Israeli side did not approve this, and only after 1 a.m., following a request by the prime minister to his media secretary, Assaf Shariv, a message was released by the Prime Minister's Office.


Sources at the Bureau expressed satisfaction with the comments of the secretary of state. According to a senior source at the bureau, the assumptions on which Rice's declaration is based on are the same agreements reached with Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni, Defense Minister Peretz and Chief of Staff Halutz.


In Jerusalem, sources said Monday morning that the failure to mention the kidnapped soldiers in Rice's comments did stem from abandoning the issue.


"The return of the kidnapped soldiers is part of a general arrangement in the area, as agreed in the Rome conference," a source said.


At the Prime Minister's Office, it is believed that Israel has been given a week to complete military operations in Lebanon: "On this coming Wednesday, discussions in the Security Council will begin, and a possible decision on a ceasefire won't be taken before this coming Friday. An immediate intervention force is expected to arrive according to our estimation by this coming Monday," a source said.


"This is the place to stress that Air Force activities in Lebanon will carry on today too, and planes will fire on every rocket launcher and cell of terrorists which will threaten to strike Israel. At the same time the IDF ground operation will continue. At the end of the 48 hour period, we'll return to full activity in Lebanon," the senior source at the Prime Minister's Office told Ynet.


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