Israel offers peace but retains option of force: Government prepares public opinion for possible escalation as fears grow over international condemnation

IN ITS first serious peace offer since the start of the fighting in Lebanon, Israel last night offered the United States a deal, saying it would accept a ceasefire if Washington found a way to persuade Syria to remove its support for Hizbollah. At the same time, however, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, qualified the offer with the threat of greater military force should diplomacy fail.

Showing that it is prepared to move towards a ground war if necessary, Israel yesterday moved an armoured column on to Israeli-controlled land in southern Lebanon. The show of strength may be calculated to put pressure not only on the Hizbollah gunmen but also on the US to intervene diplomatically.

The offer of a truce was made by Mr Rabin in talks with US leaders yesterday. Israel hopes the US has enough leverage to persuade President Hafez al-Assad of Syria to curb the Islamic radicals. In particular, the US could offer to remove Syria from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and offer aid in return for co-operation over Hizbollah, Israeli sources said.

Yesterday's deployment of the armoured column followed indications that the government is preparing Israeli public opinion for the possibility that the five-day-old air, sea and artillery assault may develop into a ground offensive.

Military chiefs told Israeli radio that gunmen of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah were increasing their presence in the south, suggesting that more drastic measures may yet be needed. A former head of the Northern Command military region, Yossi Peled, a reserve general, said on Israeli television last night that the objective of curbing Hizbollah may be impossible to achieve without sending in ground forces. But military analysts said Mr Rabin did not have the support of the Cabinet for such a move. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, arrives in Israel at the weekend on a tour intended to push forward the peace process.

Instead, the talks are certain to centre on how to end Israel's most intensive raids into Lebanon since 1982. Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, yesterday said Israel wanted to stop the fighting before Mr Christopher arrived. But he and Mr Rabin stressed that this could only come about after Hizbollah had ceased its rocket attacks across Israel's northern border.

However, there was no sign that Hizbollah was reconsidering its stance: several Israelis were injured yesterday when Katuysha rockets fell on northern settlements.

In Jerusalem, concern was expressed about the latest condemnation of Israel's attack by Washington, when the State Department explicitly accused Israel of harming Lebanon's civilian population. Israeli officials are particularly nervous about any attempts to compare policy in Lebanon with 'ethnic cleansing'.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before