Mideast powers hopeful about UN resolution

AMMAN (AFP) — Key Middle East players were hopeful Saturday that a UN Security Council resolution would bring an end to the Lebanon conflict, even as Israel expanded its military offensive.

The resolution called for a full halt to hostilities based upon “the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.” In the strongest regional reaction, Cairo urged Israel to “observe an immediate and complete ceasefire in order to allow the political agreement — achieved after significant efforts — to be applied.” Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said “the first condition of this political accord is the Israeli army’s total withdrawal from all Lebanese areas it entered since the start of the crisis.”

Other regional powers refrained from pressuring Israel and issued more muted responses.

Qatar, the only Arab state currently on the Security Council, said it had reservations because the text did not “clearly evoke the horror of the destruction caused by the Israeli aggression against innocent civilians.” However, it “accepted the resolution in order to bring an end to the bloodshed and avoid further destruction in Lebanon and the region,” the Qatari foreign minister said.

Non-Arab Iran, a staunch backer of the Muslim Shiite movement Hizbollah, rejected the resolution, saying it was biased because it called ambiguously for an end to “offensive” Israeli operations.

Israel and key ally the United States have often asserted the Jewish state’s “right to defend itself” against Hizbollah rocket attacks.

“UN Resolution 1701 is completely one-sided and it serves the Zionist regime’s interests,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by state television.

“Some amendments need to be incorporated into the resolution,” he said, adding that the views of the Lebanese people and government “need to be taken into consideration.” Lebanese Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said his country was “inclined to accept” the UN resolution although it did not fully satisfy the Beirut government.

“It satisfies, more or less, the Lebanese government plan to extend state sovereignty over all its territory,” he added as the Lebanese government met to announce its stand.

But acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri expressed profound doubts about the likelihood of the resolution being able to end the month-old war.

“A ceasefire that is incomplete is not a true ceasefire. A ceasefire that retains for one side the right not to cease firing is not a ceasefire,” Mitri said after the vote in New York.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged his Cabinet to accept the resolution when it meets on Sunday, and his deputy, Shimon Peres, hailed the resolution because it fulfilled Israeli demands.

“This resolution is favourable to Israel. Nearly all our demands have been legitimised. This is unprecedented,” he told Israeli television.

“The resolution justifies Israel’s attitude from the beginning by affirming that Hizbollah attacked first,” Peres said.

But Israel’s UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, warned of a “greater tragedy” in the Middle East if the resolution did not produce change in Lebanon.

“Unless the tools set out in this resolution are used, with resolve and decisiveness, we will be back at this table — if not in a week then in a month or a year, facing an even greater tragedy,” Gillerman said in New York.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops in tanks and armoured carriers pushed deep into south Lebanon after the passage of the resolution, with officials stressing that no ceasefire had yet been approved by all parties.

“This operation is aimed at preventing Hizbollah from firing rockets into northern Israel and is not limited in time,” government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

“So far no ceasefire has been declared. The UN Security Council resolution has yet to be approved Saturday by the Lebanese government and Sunday by the Israeli government before discussion starts on when it should come into force,” he said.

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