Russia sowed unexpected confusion at the United Nations last night, announcing it had lost patience with still-stalled efforts by the US and France to agree a ceasefire text for Lebanon and was tabling a resolution of its own to the Security Council, demanding a 72-hour halt in the fighting.
"We can't sit there and keep discussing and wait for something to happen," said the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. " There is a humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Lebanon. We have to stop the killing."
The Israeli Defence Forces had held off from launching a major ground invasion despite having cabinet approval apparently out of deference to the diplomatic process in New York. France and the US did appear at one moment to have settled on a text, which, in part, would have given the UN the authority to use force to create peace. But, last night, the Lebanese government objected.
Diplomats insisted that the two countries would work through the night to try to find a solution. Failing a breakthrough, it seemed clear that Moscow would press for a vote on its alternative text that would aim to stop the fighting, at least temporarily.
All this was unfolding as the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, was on the way to New York to join the negotiations. There was every risk that she would arrive in the midst of a diplomatic ruckus, with no one knowing whether she should back France and the US or Russia.
The Israeli Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, said that if there was a ceasefire, "we'll see the military operation as having created the diplomatic climate and a new situation". But if the efforts failed, he added, Israel would use "all of the tools" to win the war.
An Arab Israeli woman and her five-year-old son, Miriam and Fathi Assadi, were killed yesterday in a Hizbollah rocket attack on the village of Dir al-Assad. The rocket attack also wounded 11 people, including the dead boy's brother and his grandmother.
By mid-afternoon, Hizbollah had fired about 110 rockets across northern Israel.
The Franco-US formula ceasefire text was meant to facilitate a withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon while minimising the risk of creating a vacuum that could be filled again by Hizbollah. The two countries envisaged giving the existing UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, new powers to enforce calm and to beef it up quickly with troops from France as well as the Lebanese Army.
The delay in launching the full-scale invasion which was envisaged in Israel's cabinet decision on Wednesday came amid continued evidence of the effectiveness of Hizbollah anti-tank missiles, responsible for most of the 15 deaths of Israeli reservist soldiers in southern Lebanon on Wednesday.
Reuters reported that Israel had taken control of the strategic southern Lebanon town of Marjayoun early yesterday, and the Lebanese Interior Minister said that 350 Lebanese soldiers and police were detained there by the Israelis. But from the highest part of this Israeli border village, a tank damaged by a Hizbollah missile could be seen being towed by another to safety.
It was clear that Israel had still not taken control of all the territory immediately north of the border: big flashes could be seen as artillery shells pounded positions on the hill in front of Khiam. On the Israeli side brushfires could be seen on the edge of the hills near the entrance to Metulla, apparently from mortar fire.
* Israel delays major ground invasion but fighting continues in Lebanon
* Hizbollah launch 160 missiles into north Israel, killing two Arab Israelis
* Israel captures the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun, detaining 350 Lebanese soldiers and police, but suffers worst one-day military loss with 15 soldiers killed * France and US say they are close to agreement over a resolution and phased Israeli withdrawal
* Israel drops leaflets on Beirut threatening "painful" response to rockets and warning residents to quit three areas
* Death toll now 1,011 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 121 Israelis, mostly soldiersReuse content