BEIRUT, Lebanon - The Lebanese prime minister rejected a U.N. cease-fire plan
backed by US President Bush, demanding on Monday that Israel immediately pull
out from southern Lebanon even before a peacekeeping force arrives to act as a
buffer between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.
Minister Fuad Siniora (R) waves to Arab foreign ministers as they leave
following their meeting in Beirut, while Education Minister Khaled Qabbani
(L) and Health Minister Mohammed Khalefeh stand next to him. Siniora won
the backing of Arab foreign ministers for his plan to end the conflict
between Hezbollah and Israel, amid strong opposition from the Lebanese
government to a UN draft resolution seeking to halt the
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's stand, delivered in a tearful speech to Arab
foreign ministers, came on a day in which 49 Lebanese were killed, one of the
deadliest days for Lebanese in nearly four weeks of fighting.
His Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, voted unanimously to
send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire
take hold and Israeli forces withdraw south of the border. The move was an
attempt to show that Lebanon has the will and ability to assert control over its
south, which is run by Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia backed by
Syria and Iran.
In Texas, Bush said any cease-fire must prevent Hezbollah from strengthening
its grip in southern Lebanon, asserting "it's time to address root causes of
problems." He urged the United Nations to work quickly to approve a U.S.-French
draft resolution to stop the hostilities.
Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah have sharply intensified in recent days
as cease-fire diplomacy gains traction after nearly a month of unproductive
talks. The cease-fire plan now under scrutiny at the United Nations has drawn
only lukewarm support in Israel and vilification in the Arab world. Neither
Israel nor Hezbollah has found an incentive to stop fighting, and both may be
trying to gain advantage on the ground before a cease-fire.
At least 52 people died Monday on both sides. Hezbollah fired 160 rockets,
wounding five Israelis, police and rescue services said. Three Israeli soldiers
were killed in combat in south Lebanon, the first in an exchange of fire with
Hezbollah fighters and the two others by an anti-tank missile, the Israeli army
With Arab League foreign ministers assembled around a horseshoe table, the
embattled Lebanese leader repeatedly interrupted his opening address to gather
his composure and wipe away tears. The foreign ministers cast their eyes
downward in apparent embarrassment.
But Saniora's impassioned appeal did not change minds in Israel, where
hospitals in the war zone were working around the clock and under rocket fire to
protect patients from harm - in some cases moving them into a basement. The
defense minister threatened an expanded ground operation if diplomacy does not
produce results soon.
"I gave an order that, if within the coming days the diplomatic process does
not reach a conclusion, Israeli forces will carry out the operations necessary
to take control of rocket launching sites wherever they are," Israeli Defense
Minister Amir Peretz said.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel could not withdraw before the arrival
of an international force. "The moment we leave, Hezbollah will return."