Egypt reiterates decision not to send troops to Lebanon-Israel border BEIRUT: A fragile ceasefire in the Lebanon war was holding Tuesday despite sporadic violence as Hezbollah claimed a historic victory, but Israeli leaders faced recriminations at home over the conflict. Thousands of exhausted Lebanese displaced by the massive month-long Israeli onslaught jammed bombed-out roads across the south in the hope of returning home, their cars and pickup trucks loaded with families and belongings. The Lebanese army was preparing to start sending its troops to the war-battered south in the next few days in line with a UN resolution drawn up to end the fighting, as Israel continued to withdraw its troops from the area. The head of UN peacekeeping forces also said international reinforcements crucial to ensure that the UN-brokered truce holds could start deploying in Lebanon within 10 days. But a day after the ceasefire went into effect, a dozen rockets targeted Israeli positions in south Lebanon early Tuesday, an Israeli army spokesman said. No one was injured and Israeli soldiers did not return fire but the attack underscored the still volatile conditions on the ground.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit repeated his country s position that Egypt will not send participate in any forces separating between Israel and an Arab country.
Italy will contribute up to 3,000 troops to a beefed-up UN peacekeeping force due to deploy in southern Lebanon to enforce a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D Alema said Tuesday while in Egypt.
It was the first specific number mentioned by Italy for its contribution to the planned reinforcement of the Unifil force. France, Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia have also offered troops.
A Security Council resolution ordered the cease-fire in the fighting and took effect Monday morning. The Security Council blueprint calls for Lebanese forces to join up with another 15,000 soldiers in a strengthened UN-backed military mission. Their job would be to patrol a 30 km buffer zone from the Litani River to the Israeli border.
D Alema, speaking to reporters after meeting with Abul-Gheit, said that the exact number of soldiers contributed by each country, will be decided in the coming few hours.
Italy is ready to contribute a number of up to 3000 soldiers, he said. We don t know if there is a necessity for this number or whether there is a need for it.
D Alema declined to comment on the issue of disarming Hezbollah, saying only that the step was part of the internal Lebanese situation and protecting Lebanon stability and its ability to reach a national reconciliation is a must.
Italy s willingness to contribute forces in Lebanon won praise from U.S. President George W. Bush. In a telephone call Monday with Premier Romano Prodi, Bush said the decision to contribute troops to a UN force was strong and brave, and said Italy could have an important political role in helping to find solutions to the region s problems, Prodi s office said. Despite withdrawing more troops on Tuesday, Israel kept up the pressure with threats to re-conquer southern Lebanon and vowed to maintain its air and sea blockade that has all but cut the country off from the outside world. The cessation of hostilities has raised tentative hopes for a complete end to the deadliest cross-border conflict in a quarter century, which has claimed the lives of about 1,150 people in Lebanon and 160 Israelis. Despite accepting the resolution, Hezbollah has vowed to keep on fighting until the last Israeli soldier leaves Lebanon while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would hunt down the group s leaders. Olmert, who took office barely three months ago, made no apologies for the war, saying it had changed the face of the Middle East. The actions of the Israeli Defense Forces in the air, on the sea and on the ground have brought about a change in the regional strategic balance, he said. There is no more state within a state, he said of Hezbollah, which has controlled south Lebanon since Israel withdrew after 22 years of occupation in May 2000. U.S. President George W. Bush, who has backed Israel staunchly throughout the conflict, said the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah had suffered a defeat and predicted that its influence in Lebanon would decline. Responsibility for the suffering of the Lebanese people also lies with Hezbollah s state sponsors, Iran and Syria, he said. Iran has made clear that it seeks the destruction of Israel. We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks. But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has survived repeated Israeli bombings on his home and headquarters, claimed a historic and strategic victory in a televised address and said his group would not be forced to disarm by intimidation or pressure. Israel had claimed Monday that four Hezbollah fighters were killed after the truce but this was denied by the Shiite Muslim movement. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was relieved that the truce, which followed the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, appeared to be holding and urged UN member states to contribute troops to the international force without delay. I hope we can deploy the first reinforcements very quickly, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the head of UN peacekeeping forces, told French radio, referring to plans to boost the strength of the UN force currently in Lebanon from 1,990 to 15,000. I would be happy if we saw the first elements arriving within 10 days. That would be a very good sign. No precise timetable has been set for the deployment of the force, which will likely include contingents from France, Italy, Malaysia, Belgium and another half-dozen countries. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr said the army would not disarm Hezbollah but that he expected the Shiite militia to leave the south once government troops and the international reinforcements are deployed. There is no set date for the deployment, but it is due to take place in the next few days, a senior Lebanese military source told AFP. Olmert is facing criticism at home that the massive onslaught failed to deal a knock-out blow to Hezbollah or retrieve the two soldiers whose capture by militants on July 12 triggered the conflict. And he vowed to track down leaders of the militant group that has been a thorn in Israel s side since its creation in 1982 during a major invasion of Lebanon by the Jewish state. Israeli forces had pursued their battle to wipe out Hezbollah until the last minute Monday, shelling areas in the south and unleashing air strikes on the ancient eastern city of Baalbek, killing seven people. But taking advantage of the relative quiet on the ground after the ceasefire took hold, exhausted refugees in Lebanon headed toward the south and the first UN aid convoys in days arrived in the war-battered southern city of Tyre. Aid agencies complained Israel s ban on vehicle movement and air and sea blockade was still causing problems and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on the five permanent members of the Security Council to work to end the blockade. More than 900,000 people have been displaced by Israeli bombardments that also destroyed thousands of homes, dozens of bridges and hundreds of kilometers of roads, causing several billion dollars in damage. Lebanon s transport minister said the country s only international airport, knocked out on the second day of the war, could partially reopen within a week, if there were Israeli security guarantees. Agencies