The UN Security Council last night agreed to adopt a resolution calling for a "full cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hizbollah fighters in southern Lebanon even as Israeli forces began expanding their ground offensive inside Lebanese territory.
The breakthrough in New York came as France and the United States overcame differences on a resolution that envisages a swift deployment of Lebanese army troops to the south and the beefing up of the UN force already there, called UNIFIL, with troops from Western nations.
Israel, which would be expected to begin withdrawing its troops "in parallel" with the new deployments and "at the earliest opportunity ", had earlier voiced dissatisfaction with the text on the grounds that it conferred insufficient authority on UNIFIL militarily to enforce the ceasefire on Hizbollah. But the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President George Bush in a phone call last night, minutes before the vote, that he would recommend accepting the text to his cabinet tomorrow. US officials said the Lebanese government was also ready to respect the resolution.
It had become clear that the principle Security Council members, including Britain, were no longer willing to delay a vote. "We are going to vote today, come what may," the British envoy, Emyr Jones Parry, asserted in the afternoon.
Several foreign ministers were on hand to raise their hands in the Security Council, including Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, Britain's Margaret Beckett and France's Philippe Douste-Blazy.
Attention will inevitably now switch to the ground in Lebanon. It remained to be seen how far the ceasefire resolution would be observed, bringing an end to a month of blood-letting in Lebanon. Or if a truce did emerge, how long it would hold. Mrs Beckett acknowledged that problems may remain in the region. "We're not here trying to solve all the problems of the Middle East overnight," she said. Mr Jones Parry said the text was probably the "best shot at achieving the conditions that they will now go ahead, have a cessation of hostilities and implement what's required".
There is no explicit provision on the disarming of Hizbollah, raising fears it may break the ceasefire. "Our hope is that we've created enough of a process, and enough security will be established, that Hizbollah will neither want nor be able to do that," said Mr Jones Parry. "But the first few days are going to be very challenging. Because if they do attack, it opens up a whole can of worms."
The text accepts Lebanon's offer to send 15,000soldiers to the area while suggesting that UNIFIL would be expanded "to a maximum of 15,000 troops" operating under a reinforced mandate to "monitor the cessation of hostilities". Those troops are expected to be provided by countries including France, Spain, Germany and Australia. In time there could be 30,000 troops in the south. Diplomats are hoping that the introduction of such a large number of troops will answer Israel's fear regarding the creation of a security vacuum on its border that it would leave Hizbollah soldiers the opportunity to spill back in.
Israel had been hoping that UNIFIL's mandate would be boosted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which would have explicitly authorised it to engage Hizbollah fighters. The idea was dropped, however, after it drew strong objections from Lebanon on the grounds that it would have converted UNIFIL almost into colonising force.
Lebanon and other Arab nations had also pushed negotiators to balance the terms of the ceasefire to ensure Israel and Hizbollah were under matching constraints. In the end, the text called for "the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive operations". This appears to leave it to Israel to define which of its operations are offensive/
* The UN Security Council adopts a ceasefire resolution calling on Israel and Hizbollah to end hostilities. The breakthrough comes after France and the US settle differences.
* Israel begins an expanded ground offensive in southern Lebanon after expressing dissatisfaction over the emerging ceasefire deal. It later says it is satisfied with the resolution and agrees to the ceasefire.
* Humanitarian agencies seek ways to get aid to an estimated 100,000 people trapped in southern Lebanon and the mayor of Tyre says the city could run out of food in two days.Reuse content