Will the cease-fire stick?
Israel and Hezbollah battle as hard as ever in the hours leading up to it.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 14, 2006
JERUSALEM - Israel's Cabinet became the final party to sign on to the U.N. cease-fire deal Sunday, while fighting escalated dramatically in the hours leading up to it.
Israeli planes blasted Beirut and ground troops battled Hezbollah in southern Lebanon seeking to batter the militant Islamic group in the hours before fighting stopped.
Hezbollah hit back with its heaviest rocket barrage of the war on northern Israel.
The guns were supposed to fall silent at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. EDT) today, ending a month of combat that has killed more than 900 people.
But implementation of the hard-won agreement already was in question Sunday night when the Lebanese Cabinet indefinitely postponed a meeting dealing with plans to send 15,000 soldiers to police Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Lebanon.
Lebanese media reported that the Cabinet, which approved the cease-fire plan unanimously Saturday, was sharply divided over demands that Hezbollah surrender its weapons in the south. That disagreement was believed to have led to the cancellation of Sunday's meeting.
The deployment of the Lebanese army along Israel's border, with an equal number of U.N. peacekeepers, was a cornerstone of the cease-fire resolution passed Friday by the U.N. Security Council. The forces are supposed to keep Hezbollah fighters out of an 18-mile-wide zone between the border and Lebanon's Litani River.
Some 30,000 Israeli soldiers fought fierce battles with guerrillas in Lebanon's south. Israel's army said five of its soldiers died. Hezbollah reported one of its fighters killed.
Israeli jets pounded a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut with at least 23 missiles, most coming in a two-minute period Sunday. At least two dozen people were killed in airstrikes across the country.
Hezbollah fired more than 250 rockets at northern Israel, the worst daily barrage since fighting started July 12. Missiles killed an Israeli man and wounded 53 people, officials said.
As the fighting persisted, Israel's Cabinet held a stormy debate on the cease-fire, with minister Ophir Pines-Paz criticizing the government's decision to expand its ground offensive ahead of the truce. The Cabinet eventually approved the agreement 24-0, with one abstention.
In addition to authorizing the international force in southern Lebanon, the Security Council resolution calls for the Lebanese government to be the only armed force in the country, meaning Hezbollah would have to disarm.
Officials said Israeli troops would begin leaving southern Lebanon as soon as the Lebanese army and the international force started to deploy in the area.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has signaled acceptance to the cease-fire terms. But Hezbollah has resisted previous calls to disarm, and its refusal to follow through this time would threaten the deal.
With Israeli troops remaining in southern Lebanon for the time being, the potential for more clashes after a cease-fire was high. Israel's weekend push to the Litani River meant dozens of Hezbollah fighters were caught behind Israeli lines and some of them were almost certain to attack.
Nasrallah said Saturday that his guerrillas would abide by the cease-fire resolution but warned it was "our natural right" to fight any Israeli troops remaining in Lebanon.
The fighting erupted July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an army patrol inside Israel, killing three soldiers and capturing two others.
Israeli politicians criticized the government's handling of the fighting and its claims of success.
While Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel had emerged victorious, the U.N. plan was seen by many Israelis as at best a draw with Hezbollah. Some felt Israel - unable to subdue a guerrilla force - had lost.
As the cease-fire was set to begin, Israeli forces had not achieved their goal of "breaking" Hezbollah, disarming it or stopping it from firing missiles into northern Israel.
The two Israeli soldiers whose seizure by Hezbollah started the war remained in captivity. Israel now hopes politics and negotiation can succeed where military force has failed.
On both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border, there was little confidence that real peace would break out.
"We are all sick of this war," said Israeli Pvt. Tomer Ashkenazi, 21, who was deployed to the fight a month ago, as he helped prepare shells for his tank unit Sunday at this Lebanese border community. "But, as a soldier, I can't see the end. They keep firing at us and we keep firing at them."
Mohammed Asaf, a Shiite Muslim, sat in the alcove of an apartment building in western Beirut, watching continuous television re-runs of rescue workers picking through rubble.
Asaf and his extended family of 10 have lived in the alcove since Israeli attacks 23 days earlier forced them from their apartment in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold.
"I don't think the war will end," said Asaf, a 23-year-old law student. "For that, I blame them all - Israel, Syria, the United States, Iran and Hezbollah."
Israel's Cabinet on Sunday became the final party to approve it. Its provisions:
- Takes effect 8 a.m. Beirut time (1 a.m. EDT) today.
- Israel halts airstrikes.
- Hezbollah disarms.
- Lebanon sends 15,000 soldiers to an 18-mile-wide strip north of the border; they will be joined by 15,000 U.N. troops.
By the numbers
33 Days of fighting since Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
10,000 At least the number of bombing runs flown into Lebanon by the Israeli air force in retaliation.
30,000 Number of Israeli soldiers on the ground in southern Lebanon.
3,900 At least the number of rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah.
789 Number of Lebanese killed.
530 Number of Hezbollah guerrillas Israel says it has killed; the group has acknowledged the death of only about 60 fighters.
152 Number of Israelis killed, including 113 soldiers.