Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ceasefire agreed for Monday

Ceasefire agreed for Monday
By Yara Bayoumy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Israeli and Lebanese leaders had agreed to a ceasefire at 0500 GMT on Monday to end a month-long war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas.

Israeli forces pushed deeper into Lebanon on Saturday and up to 17 soldiers were reported killed in what would be Israel's worst single day for deaths, as the United Nations prepared to deploy a force of up to 15,000 to help enforce the truce.

The Israeli YNET News Internet site quoted an official in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office as saying Israeli troops would start withdrawing from south Lebanon within a week or two when the U.N. force and the Lebanese army arrived in the area.

Olmert has backed a U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Friday that called for a ceasefire and set out proposals to implement it. He was expected to ask his cabinet on Sunday to formally approve the resolution.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his government unanimously approved the resolution on Saturday, and Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters would abide by it once Israeli forces also adhered to it.

"I am very happy to announce (Olmert and Siniora) have agreed that the cessation of hostilities and the end of the fighting will enter into force on 14 August at 0500 hours GMT," Annan said in a statement in New York.

"Preferably, the fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Security Council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through."

At least 1,061 people in Lebanon and 135 Israelis have been killed in the war, triggered on July 12 when Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Helicopters lifted hundreds of Israeli troops into south Lebanon on Saturday as part of an expanding offensive. Israel's top military commander, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, said the Jewish state had tripled its forces in Lebanon since Thursday.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said at least 11 soldiers were killed by Hizbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon on Saturday. The army said it had killed more than 40 guerrillas in 24 hours. Hizbollah denied it had lost 40 fighters.


Hizbollah guerrillas shot down an Israeli helicopter in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army said. Israeli media said there were casualties but did not specify how many.

Arab television stations said 17 Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday.

Israeli air strikes on southern Lebanon killed up to 15 people in the village of Rshaf and four civilians in Kharayeb, security sources said. Raids in the eastern Bekaa Valley killed one civilian.

Hizbollah fired at least 65 rockets into Israel, wounding several people, Israeli officials said.

Nasrallah said Hizbollah would abide by the U.N. resolution and cooperate with the U.N. and Lebanese troops, but would carry on confronting any Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil.

"As long as there is Israeli military movement, Israeli field aggression and Israeli soldiers occupying our land ... it is our natural right to confront them, fight them and defend our land, our homes, and ourselves," Nasrallah said.

President Bush welcomed the U.N. resolution, saying Hizbollah and its main allies Iran and Syria had brought an "unwanted" war to the region.

"(The resolution was designed) to put an end to Iran and Syria's efforts to hold the Lebanese people hostage to their own extremist agenda," said Bush.

France is widely expected to lead the planned U.N. force, which will expand the existing U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) but have a stronger mandate.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy made clear in an interview with Le Monde newspaper the mission of the new force would not include disarming Hizbollah by force.

Major General Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern military command, said some Israeli forces had reached as far as the Litani river in Lebanon.

Adam said at least 500 Hizbollah guerrillas had been killed in the war. Hizbollah has announced less than 100 deaths.

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem and United Nations bureaux)