ISRAEL last night announced a ceasefire in southern Lebanon after seven days of ferocious bombardment of Hizbollah guerrilla strongholds, writes Sarah Helm.
But Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, said that if Hizbollah continued to fire rockets at Israeli targets the bombing - which has forced more 200,000 Lebanese to flee their homes - would resume. However, he said: 'I hope residents of south Lebanon will be able to return to a quiet life. Their concerns should be addressed to the Lebanese Government and Syria.'
Last night's decision appeared to come without any prior commitment from Hizbollah to end its attacks, despite Israel's insistence throughout the week that this was a prerequisite for an end to the bombardment.'
Israeli officials indicated that the ceasefire followed 'understandings' reached, via American channels, with Syria and Lebanon that the activities of the pro-Iranian militia would cease. However, it remained highly uncertain last night whether Hizbollah or its militant Palestinian allies would stop their rocket attacks, although Hizbollah announced on Friday that it would call a halt if Israel ended its bombing.
If the ceasefire does hold, it paves the way for Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, who is due to arrive in Israel on Tuesday, to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the conflict in southern Lebanon.
The announcement yesterday followed another day of bombardment and intense diplomatic activity, led by the US, to persuade Syria and Lebanon to exercise their influence over the guerrillas. A meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Damascus yesterday called on the UN to impose sanctions against Israel if it did not halt the bombardment.
The operation killed more than 120 Lebanese and wounded about 450. Some 270 retaliatory rockets killed three Israelis and wounded 34.
Deadly rain of dollars, page 13
Rabin profile, page 21
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies