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PM Olmert Agrees to a Multinational Force Along Northern Border

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to a US plan calling for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force along Israel’s border.
By Yechiel Spira
First Publish: 7/30/2006, 6:30 AM / Last Update: 7/30/2006, 5:20 AM

Following an almost two-hour meeting in his Jerusalem residence with US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice on Saturday night, the prime minister agreed to the US plan, calling for the deployment of a multinational force between Israel and Lebanon and Syria. It was announced that France and Lebanon would take part in the force, but other details have yet to be decided upon.

According to reports following the high-level meeting, the size of the force and the timing for such a move must still be agreed upon, but Olmert has given his approval to the idea of such a force being positioned between Israel and Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.

Secretary Rice will leave for Lebanon on Sunday, and she will return to Israel following talks with officials in Beirut as she continues her shuttle diplomacy mission in the hope of actualizing a ceasefire.

The US-brokered plan includes yet another land withdrawal by Israel, from the Har Dov area, also known as Shab’a Farm. The area today has a vital strategic significance, permitting IDF troops to man outposts along the border area.

The prime minister has indicated a willingness to consider withdrawing from Shab'a, despite Israel’s compliance with the demands of the international community in its May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and despite the fact that the Har Dov area was liberated from Syrian occupation, not Lebanese.

UN Resolution 1559 of two years ago calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbullah. It is not clear if this will help achieve Israel's stated goals of distancing Hizbullah from Israel’s border and cutting off Hizbullah’s weapons supply train from Iran and Syria.

While Secretary Rice did not call upon Israel to stop the military offensive in Lebanon at this time, French President Jacques Chirac released a statement that he would not authorize the deployment of his troops until Israel ceases its fire.

Reports quoting senior Defense Ministry officials state that the Americans will permit the ongoing Israeli offensive against Hizbullah to continue for another 7-10 days, but no such official statement has been released.

France on the other hand is preparing to turn to the UN Security Council, demanding an immediate Israeli ceasefire. The French resolution was distributed to council members over the weekend, calling for a stabilization force numbering some 20,000 troops.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan on Monday will head a session discussing potential force members, which is expected to include European Union nations as well as Turkey.

In a weekend interview with the BBC, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed optimism, stating he believes an agreement on the international force and a ceasefire can be reached in a number of days.

Israel’s military offensive intended to disarm and distance the Hizbullah threat was launched following a multi-pronged Hizbullah attack on July 12 which left eight soldiers dead and two IDF soldiers falling captive to the terrorists. Since the start of the ongoing warfare, Hizbullah has fired close to 2,000 missiles into Israeli civilian population centers, striking the entire northern area. Hizbullah has continually threatened to direct longer-range rockets into the Greater Tel Aviv area. Last week, longer-range missiles landed as far south as Afula.

Secretary Rice has signaled that any ceasefire agreement must include the unconditional release of captive IDF soldiers being held by terrorists. A third IDF soldier is being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. He was taken captive in the Kerem Shalom area near Gaza in June.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has released statements remaining firm in his demands for the immediate and unconditional release of the three as a prerequisite to an Israeli agreement to halt military offensives in Lebanon and Gaza.