NATO to support Israel?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

July 24, 2006
Israel Weighs Foreign Troops on Border

KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel, July 23 ‹ As Israel again pounded southern Lebanon from 
the air and ground on Sunday and the Hezbollah militia rained dozens more 
rockets on Israel¹s north, diplomatic efforts increased with growing discussion 
of a multinational armed force being placed in the area.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel was interested in a NATO-led force, and
the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, spoke of one consisting of European Union 
members with combat experience and the authority to take control of Lebanon¹s 
border and crossing points.

American officials said they were open to the idea but did not expect American 
troops to be part of the force. ³It¹s a new idea, we¹ll certainly take it 
seriously,² John R. Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told 
CNN¹s ³Late Edition.²

In Washington, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with a
delegation from Saudi Arabia, and officials on both sides said the makeup of a 
potential international peacekeeping force was discussed. [Page A8.]

Israel and the United States initially responded skeptically to the idea of an 
international force, first proposed last Monday by Prime Minister Tony Blair of 
Britain and Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Foreign Minister 
Philippe Douste-Blazy of France were in Israel on Sunday and Ms. Rice was 
scheduled to arrive Monday. She is expected to go to Rome later in the week for 
a conference aimed at ending the fighting.

While the Israelis and Americans seemed increasingly focused on a multinational 
force for southern Lebanon that would work with the Lebanese Army to remove the 
risk to Israel of Hezbollah, it remained unclear how the European countries 
whose forces would participate would react and how Arab countries viewed the 

Moreover, in Lebanon the talk was of exchanging the two Israeli soldiers 
captured by Hezbollah for prisoners in Israel, while the Israelis clearly want a
more comprehensive deal that will end the risk Hezbollah poses it on its border.

Mr. Peretz repeated Sunday that the offensive was not the start of a full-scale 
invasion of Lebanon and that Israel¹s activity would remain restricted to 
well-defined raids. He said the military operations would complement ³broad 
international activity to complete the process² of subduing Hezbollah and 
restoring security along its northern border.

The fighting on Sunday reflected both Israel¹s heavy reliance on air power to 
defeat Hezbollah, and the resilient ability of Hezbollah to lob dozens of 
rockets into Israel despite 12 days of punishing bombings.

Israeli planes continued to blast southern Lebanese cities, killing at least 8 
civilians, including a Lebanese photographer, and wounding at least 45, Lebanese
officials said.

The violence struck a number of civilian vehicles. A minibus carrying 18 people 
fleeing the village of Tireh was hit by a missile. Witnesses and medical 
officials said three were killed and 13 wounded.

Layal Najib, 23, a freelance photographer, was killed when an Israeli missile 
struck next to her car on the road between the villages of Qana and Siddiqine. 
Ms. Najib worked at Al Jaras magazine and was also a freelance for Agence 
France-Presse and several other news outlets.

Asked about the attacks on civilian vehicles, an Israeli Army spokesman said the
military had hit ³approximately 20 vehicles suspected of serving the terror 
organization in the launching of missiles at Israel, and were recognized fleeing
from or staying at missile-launching areas.²

The deaths brought the toll to at least 380, Lebanese authorities said. Lebanon 
does not differentiate between civilian and Hezbollah deaths. The Israeli 
military says it has killed more than 100 Hezbollah fighters. The military also 
said that Hezbollah had fired nearly 100 rockets on northern Israel on Sunday.

Two people were killed when at least 13 rockets fell on Haifa, the country¹s 
third-largest city, bringing Israel¹s civilian death toll in the conflict to 17.
Israel has lost 19 soldiers in the fighting.

Israel has not said how many ground troops it has in Lebanon, but the Israeli 
news media said Sunday that it was in the thousands.

In Beirut, a senior Lebanese official gave the first word since the fighting 
began of the Israeli soldiers whose capture set off the crisis on July 12. 
Lebanon¹s foreign minister, Fawzi Salloukh, a Shiite close to Hezbollah, said 
the soldiers were ³in good health,² and called on the United Nations to have a 
third party arrange for a prisoner exchange.

He did not say whether he had actually seen the captured soldiers.

The government has distanced itself from Hezbollah¹s actions, but has not been 
overtly critical of it.

In a telephone interview with CNN, the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, 
sharply criticized Israeli attacks. ³Israel is committing serious crimes against
humanity,² he said. ³They are fragmenting the country piece by piece.²

The United Nations¹ top relief official, Jan Egeland, toured the destruction in 
Beirut and said it would take billions of dollars to repair damage.

He was expected to travel later to Israel to help coordinate the delivery of 
relief aid. As many as 600,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, 
according to the World Health Organization.

The Israeli military announced that aid could enter Lebanon through Beirut¹s 
port and be transferred to regional aid centers across Lebanon, in coordination 
with its forces. It did not specify how aid would reach the south, where the aid
is most needed.

Cyprus continued funneling thousands of foreign evacuees from Lebanon to safety 
in their home countries on Sunday, welcoming an estimated 6,000 people at its 
two main ports in Larnaca and Limassol, according to government officials.

By the end of the day, many of the evacuees had left the island on charter 
flights arranged by their governments, mostly through the airport at Larnaca, 
which is operating well beyond its normal capacity with about 250 arrivals and 
departures a day, according to airport officials.

Nabih Berri, the speaker of Lebanon¹s Parliament, a Shiite and head of the rival
Amal movement, said Hezbollah had agreed to allow the Lebanese government to 
lead any negotiations toward a prisoner exchange.

So far, however, Israel has rejected such an exchange, saying the problem of 
Hezbollah is much larger and needs to be solved.

Brig. Gen. Shuki Shachar, the chief of staff of the Northern Command of the 
Israeli Army, said some ground forces had reached ³the depths² of Lebanon and at
least three Lebanese villages were under Israeli control.

Tens of thousands of Lebanese fled north to the Lebanese port of Sidon, which 
Israel attacked for the first time on Sunday. Four people were wounded in the 
attack, on a Hezbollah-related religious center.

Israeli warplanes and helicopters also attacked Hezbollah positions in and 
around the eastern Bekaa region town of Baalbek and bombed a textile factory in 
the border town of Manara.

General Shachar said the Lebanese civilian death toll was light, considering 
that Israeli fighter aircraft and attack helicopters had made 1,500 sorties over
Lebanon and that Israel had fired more than 20,000 artillery rounds into the 
country in the last 12 days.

³This is a war, and in war sometimes there are mistakes,² the general said, 
noting that it is particularly difficult to avoid civilian casualties when 
fighting a guerrilla force mixed in an indigenous population.

Israel has been warning the civilian population of the south to move north to 
avoid getting hurt. ³The reason for the evacuation of the population is to leave
us open space and an open area to hit military and terrorist targets and not to 
deal with the problem of civilians,² General Shachar said.

Israeli military officials say they have found thousands of Katyusha rockets and
other missiles hidden in well-camouflaged underground bunkers and also in 
mosques, hospitals and schools. They say Iran is trying to send fresh supplies 
of ammunition and rockets to Lebanon through Syria.

The general said Israeli troops in Maroun al-Ras are fighting Hezbollah forces 
in the larger town of Bint Jbail, a mile or two deeper into the country.

Hezbollah confirmed Sunday that Israeli forces had occupied Maroun al-Ras and 
said three of its fighters had been killed there, but said in a statement that 
it had, in turn, inflicted losses on Israeli forces.

³Our steadfast mujahedeen have presented through the Maroun al-Ras 
confrontations and the losses of the enemy ‹ in troops, tanks and helicopters ‹ 
an example of what the confrontations will be in every town, village and 
position,² the statement said.

An Italian soldier, Capt. Roberto Punzo, working with the United Nations 
observer team in southern Lebanon, was wounded by Hezbollah gunfire during the 
fighting. He was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Haifa.

Hezbollah rockets continued to fall close to the border. The town of Kiryat 
Shmona was engulfed in dense white smoke by brush fires started by rockets, most
of which fell in forests and fields of this sparsely populated area.

Yellow crop-dusters circled overhead dropping red fire suppressant.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired a dozen smaller Qassam rockets 
into southern Israel on Sunday without causing serious damage. The attacks 
suggested that earlier reports of a Palestinian Authority attempt to broker a 
unilateral cease-fire among the militants had failed.

Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Beirut for this article, and 
Renwick McLean from Larnaca, Cyprus.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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