Ceasefire hopes rise as thousands march in London against war

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The UN Security Council met last night to review the text of a resolution that might bring about a ceasefire in Lebanon within days, but as the bloodshed continued, thousands of protesters marched in London and other capitals to demand an immediate halt to the fighting.

Tony Blair, who delayed his holiday to help draw up the resolution, called it "a first step" last night. The Prime Minister held out the hope of "the cessation of hostilities literally within the next couple of days", but a formal vote is not expected immediately, and a Hizbollah cabinet minister in Lebanon, Mohammed Fneish, said there would be no ceasefire while Israeli soldiers remained on Lebanese soil.

Israel also ruled out an immediate halt to fighting, though it said agreement by France and the US on the wording of the resolution was an "important development". The text calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and a commitment to work "on a permanent ceasefire for a long-term solution". But it is understood to allow Israel to respond to attacks launched by Hizbollah.

Yesterday Hizbollah rocket attacks killed three people and wounded five in northern Israel, while Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets in the port of Sidon, warning the inhabitants to leave ahead of army attacks against rocket launching sites. Earlier, Israeli naval commandos raided Tyre, killing seven men in close combat. Israel said they were the leaders of a Hizbollah cell they blamed for launching long-range missiles, and that eight commandoes had been wounded in the operation, two seriously.

Israel also continued its military campaign against Palestinian militias in Gaza. Hospital officials reported four Palestinians killed and four wounded in air strikes on the town of Rafah early yesterday. The dead included a brother and sister, aged 15 and 16, and two Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen.

The Stop the War Coalition, which organised yesterday's rally in London, claimed 100,000 people turned out, but police estimated the figure was closer to 20,000. As protesters marched past Downing Street to Parliament Square, they dropped children's shoes around the Cenotaph to symbolise the loss of young lives in the Middle East.

Speaking before the draft UN resolution was announced, Downing Street officials acknowledged that significant issues remained unresolved, including the composition, mandate and timing of deployment of the stabilisation force. Even more contentious is the exchange of Hizbollah and Israeli prisoners. "It's about making sure the situation remains frozen and doesn't just present Hizbollah a chance to rearm," said one source.

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