The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday that calls for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and authorizes the deployment of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon as Israel withdraws.
The draft, which had been proposed by the United States and France, offers the best chance yet for peace after more than four weeks of significant bloodshed. It was the first significant action by the Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body, to address a war that has killed more than 800 people, destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure and inflamed tensions across the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution late Friday, after a day of dramatic day brinksmanship including a threat to expand the ground war in Lebanon. But Israeli officials said Israel would not halt fighting until Israel’s Cabinet has approved the cease- fire deal in its weekly meeting Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora also assured Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that his country backed the resolution, a U.S. official said.
Using particularly strong language in remarks before the vote, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said hundreds of millions of people around the world shared his frustration that the council had taken so long to act. That inaction has “badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity,” he said.
“I would be remiss if I did not tell you how profoundly disappointed I am that the council did not reach this point much, much earlier,” he said.
Rice said the “hard work of diplomacy” was only beginning with the passage of the resolution and that it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence. She said the United States would increase its assistance to Lebanon to $50 million, and demanded other nations stay out of its affairs.
“Today we call upon every state, especially Iran and Syria, to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community,” Rice told the council.
The Security Council, repeatedly accused of taking too long to come up with a response to the fighting, left out several key demands from both Israel and Lebanon in efforts to come up with a workable arrangement.
“You never get a deal like this with everybody getting everything that they want,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said. “The question is, has everybody got enough for this to stick and for it to be enforceable? Nobody wants to go back to where we were before this last episode started.”
Despite Lebanese objections, Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations, and a dispute over the Chebaa Farms area along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border will be left for later. Israel won’t get its wish for an entirely new multinational force separate from the U.N. peacekeepers that have been stationed in south Lebanon since 1978.
There is also no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or a demand for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Although the draft resolution emphasizes the need for the “unconditional release” of the two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hezbollah sparked the conflict, that call is not included in the list of steps required for a lasting cease-fire.
Diplomats acknowledged each side would have to make sacrifices but said the negotiators’ key goal had been to come up with a draft that spells out a lasting political solution to the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border. The standoff has bedeviled the region for more than two decades.
At the heart of the resolution are two elements: It seeks an immediate halt to the fighting that began July 12 when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli troops along the Blue Line, the U.N.-demarcated border separating Israel; and it spells out a series of steps that would lead to a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution.
That would be done by creating a new buffer zone in south Lebanon “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL” _ the acronym of the U.N. force deployed in the region since 1978. The force now has 2,000 troops; the resolution would expand it to a maximum of 15,000.
South Lebanon had been under de facto Hezbollah control for several years until Israeli forces occupied parts of it after the start of the fighting last month. The political solution would include implementation of previous Security Council resolutions calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament.
Under the resolution, UNIFIL would be significantly beefed up to help coordinate when 15,000 Lebanese troops deploy to the region. As Lebanese forces take control of the south, Israeli troops would withdraw.
Israel is chiefly concerned that Hezbollah not be allowed to regain its strength in south Lebanon once a cessation of hostilities goes into effect. It had originally demanded the creation of a new multinational force separate from UNIFIL, which it claimed was powerless.
The United States, which had shared Israel’s concerns, believes that UNIFIL would essentially become so strong that it will not resemble the weaker force it once was.
“It is, as we see it in this resolution, a robust force and one that’s capable of meeting the job,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
A senior U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. and France envision a 10-day timeframe between the moment a halt to the hostilities is declared and the moment UNIFIL troops go into action in the south.
The draft asks Annan to come up with proposals within 30 days on resolving various border disputes including the one over Chebaa Farms. Lebanon had wanted a direct demand in the draft that Chebaa Farms be put under U.N. control.
Lebanon had also wanted the draft to call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Yet the draft only asks that the issue of those prisoners be worked out.