CNN.COMCease-fire countdown intensifies fightingSun Aug 13, 2006 23:13
Cease-fire countdown intensifies fighting
Sticking point over disarming Hezbollah in S. Lebanon
Sunday, August 13, 2006; Posted: 9:49 p.m. EDT (01:49 GMT)
TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel and Hezbollah looked to inflict maximum damage as the clock ticked toward a scheduled cease-fire Monday morning, each side pounding targets with heavy missile barrages.
The cease-fire is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. local time (0500 GMT, 1 a.m. ET).
Despite widespread hope that the cease-fire will bring a halt to the monthlong conflict, it was unclear what effect it will have.
Acknowledging that "the next few days are days of uncertainty," Israeli commander Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz said Israel will adhere to the cease-fire if Hezbollah does not fire at its forces or civilians.
Israel reported that 250 rockets hit its territory, including the port city of Haifa. At least one person was killed in the rocket attacks.
The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, launched what appeared to be one of the heaviest bombardments on southern Lebanon in the 33-day-old conflict, and struck targets in Beirut's southern suburbs. (Watch aftermath of hits on Beirut -- 1:47)
The IDF said it carried out more than 100 aerial attacks Sunday targeting Hezbollah militants, and that five soldiers were killed Sunday in heavy fighting against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.
Lebanese civil defense officials said nine people were killed and 35 wounded in an airstrike on the Bekaa Valley town of Brital, as well as three killed and eight wounded near the eastern town of Ali al-Nahri. Officials said the dead were civilians.
Lebanese army sources said the IDF hit a truck distributing food and hit a Lebanese army base, killing a Lebanese soldier.
An Israeli missile landed at about 10 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) in the port area of Tyre in southern Lebanon. Power in most of the city was out.
Cannon fire from helicopters echoed over Tyre, and small-arms fire was heard coming from south of the city.
The Israeli military said it shot down two Hezbollah drones Sunday, one flying over Israel and the other in the area of Tyre.
"It's time to do all we can to destroy as much as we can of the infrastructure in the next 12 or 13 hours, and then we'll see what is next," former Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN.
Nouhad Mahmoud, Lebanese representative to the United Nations, countered, "I don't understand why we need this grand finale."
He questioned what Israel thinks it could achieve in a matter of hours "that they couldn't achieve in one month."
Mahmoud acknowledged that Hezbollah set off the conflict, when its militants crossed into Israel last month, killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others.
"They just started it, and the Israelis took the rest," he said.
Lebanon postpones meeting
The two Hezbollah members of the Lebanese Cabinet said Saturday the militia wanted to keep its weapons south of the Litani River -- a zone the U.N. resolution calls for demilitarizing. (Text of U.N. Resolution 1701)
Yet the Cabinet unanimously approved the resolution. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah indicated that the two Hezbollah ministers voted for it in a spirit of national unity.
The Lebanese Cabinet planned to meet Sunday to discuss implementing the plan, but then postponed the meeting for up to two days.
A Lebanese government minister said the postponement came at the request of parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a key negotiator with Hezbollah, to give government officials more time to discuss the plan with Hezbollah.
Sources in Berri's office denied the report.
The postponement sparked concern worldwide among leaders with high hopes for the resolution.
A senior Lebanese government source said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora received calls from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The White House confirmed that Rice spoke with Siniora, but a White House spokesman did not know who initiated that call. The State Department had no immediate comment.
The senior Lebanese government source said Bush called Siniora as well, but the White House denied that.
The source also said Annan told Siniora that if Hezbollah maintains its position against disarmament south of the Litani, an international force can't go into Lebanon.
The U.N. resolution calls on Israel to pull out of southern Lebanon as an international force and Lebanese troops come in.
Two U.N. ships carrying more than 4,500 tons of food and humanitarian supplies docked Sunday in Beirut, officials with the U.N.'s World Food Program said.
Questions over 'offensive'
Israel said it planned to abide by the resolution, which calls on Israel to halt "offensive" military actions.
"This is our full and unequivocal intention," said Isaac Herzog, Israeli Minister of Tourism and a member of the Cabinet, which Sunday approved U.N. Resolution 1701.
But Israeli officials also acknowledged it remains unclear what actions could be construed as "offensive."
"What if some trucks will come from Syria with new launchers and rockets? If we attack them, some might say it's not defensive," said Barak. "If we don't, it will end up with just another opportunity for Hezbollah to regroup."
Israel: No pullout until other forces arrive
Israel has made clear it will not immediately pull out, but will wait until other forces arrive to prevent the Hezbollah militia from again taking over the area on Israel's northern border.
"We ask that there not be a vacuum ... a situation in which the IDF exits and there remains a vacuum there and the Hezbollah returns to those places where it left, or alternately remains in those places," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday.
Barak, in a CNN interview, said, "It will not be fully quiet -- that's the major risk -- until the international force will come."
The IDF said its troops had killed more than 530 Hezbollah fighters, releasing the names of 180 of them. But Lebanon said most of the 890 people killed before Sunday's bombardments were civilians.
The Israeli military said at least 105 military personnel and 41 civilians have been been killed, and more than 1,000 people have been wounded.
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