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We're not stopping now, say defiant Israelis

London Telegraph | July 24 2006
By Isambard Wilkinson & Francis Harris

Israel brushed aside mounting calls yesterday for a ceasefire in Lebanon. Its army made clear that it planned to keep up its assault for at least a week and had not ruled out a ground invasion.

Buoyed by support from Washington for rooting out Hizbollah rockets from southern Lebanon, the army treated parts of the border area as a free-fire zone. It hit at least two cars with rockets as they sought the relative safety of the city of Tyre.

Condoleezza Rice, the American secretary of state, was setting out for the Middle East last night but aides said that calling a ceasefire was not on her agenda unless it involved the disarming of the Iranian-backed Hizbollah.

"The purpose is to maintain a sustainable ceasefire," said Josh Bolten, President George W Bush's chief of staff. "It is sustainable only if we get to the root problem, which is Hizbollah, a terrorist organisation." That uncompromising response will disappoint those at the United Nations and in Europe who believe that a ceasefire should be the primary aim.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said he accepted proposals for an international force for southern Lebanon. But the broad powers he envisaged for it appeared to rule out any prospect of it ever taking shape.

"Israel is ready to see deployment of a force with military capabilities and combat experience made up of troops from European Union countries," he told Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister.

But in addition to monitoring Lebanon's border with Israel, the force would have to control crossings between Syria and Lebanon. That would require some 20,000 troops and Lebanon would see such a mandate as tantamount to an occupation.

In Beirut, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, toured parts of the southern suburbs which have been devastated by air strikes and accused the Israelis of violating international humanitarian law.

"It is horrific," he said as he visited the Haret Hreik district. "I did not know it was block after block of houses."

Despite 11 days of bombardment, Hizbollah launched salvoes of rockets into northern Israel, killing two people in Haifa and wounding more than 30.

Lt Gen Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of staff, said his forces needed weeks to do their work. "I don't want to set a date," he said, "but we're trying to shorten the operation and still achieve our goals."

As senior diplomats from Britain, Germany and France arrived in Israel to try to coax it towards a ceasefire or at least restraint, Gen Halutz said: "The foreign ministers do not determine our time limit. The Israeli government does that."

In London, ministers insisted that there was no rift between the Foreign Office and No 10 after Kim Howells, a Foreign Office minister, speaking in Beirut, accused Israel of using disproportionate force and destroying Lebanon. He returned to the theme yesterday after visiting Haifa.

"I am very disturbed the more I hear about the extent of this campaign," he said. "At some stages there are 60 jets out there over the Mediteranean waiting to hit targets."

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said she hoped that Mr Howells, having visited northern Israel, where some 2,000 missiles have struck, understood that the country "had a duty to defend its citizens".

America supports Israel's declared aim of forcing the implementation of UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of Hizbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese army to southern Lebanon. It swept aside a Syrian offer of direct talks on the crisis.

John Bolton, the hawkish United States ambassador to the UN, said: "Syria does not need dialogue to know what to do; they need to lean on Hizbollah."

The Americans are hoping to use moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to convince Syria that it should cut its ties with Iran. Such a move would greatly weaken Hizbollah.



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