A tearful Lebanese prime minister pleaded for an end to a war that has killed more than 700 people, including at least 51 on Monday. He declared U.N. diplomacy pointless unless the world body orders an immediate Israeli pullout from his country after a cease-fire with Hezbollah guerrillas.
Within hours, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, voted unanimously to send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire take hold and Israeli forces withdraw south of the border.
The move was an attempt by the Lebanese leadership to show that it has the will and ability to assert control over the country's south, which is run by Hezbollah. Lebanon has been unable for nearly two years to implement a U.N. resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia backed by Syria and Iran.
CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk says "a consensus is clearly growing that a link between a cease-fire and timely withdrawal of Israeli troops may be in a revised resolution.
"The other elements of a longer-term political solution – one that returns prisoners, withdraws Israel's troops, disarms Hezbollah, places an international force in southern Lebanon and gives the border protection back to the Lebanese army – may take longer to resolve," Falk added.
President Bush said Monday that any cease-fire must prevent Hezbollah from strengthening its grip in southern Lebanon, asserting "it's time to address root causes of problems." He urged the United Nations to work quickly to approve a resolution to stop the hostilities.
Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said an immediate cease-fire would not have worked before now — time was needed to build an international consensus that Hezbollah can no longer act as an armed state within a state, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.
Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah have sharply intensified in recent days as cease-fire diplomacy gains traction after nearly a month of unproductive talks. A U.S.-French cease-fire plan now under scrutiny at the United Nations has drawn only lukewarm support in Israel and vilification in the Arab world. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah has found an incentive to stop fighting, and both may be trying to gain advantage on the ground before a cease-fire.
At least 51 people died Monday on both sides. Israeli attacks killed at least 49 people, Lebanese authorities said, including 10 in a sunset strike on south Beirut. Hezbollah fired 160 rockets, wounding five Israelis, police and rescue services said. And two Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in the Lebanese border town of Bint Jbail, the military said.
It was one of the deadliest days for Lebanese in nearly four weeks of fighting, higher than on Friday, when at least 32 Lebanese civilians and two Lebanese army soldiers were killed. However, casualty counts have proved difficult to confirm — in one case, the initial death toll of 56 in the town of Qana was later cut in half.
With Arab League foreign ministers assembled around a horseshoe table, the embattled Lebanese leader repeatedly interrupted his opening address to gather his composure and wipe away tears. The foreign ministers cast their eyes downward in apparent embarrassment.
But Saniora's impassioned appeal did not change minds in Israel, where hospitals in the war zone were working around the clock and under rocket fire to protect patients from harm — in some cases moving them into a basement. The defense minister threatened an expanded ground operation if diplomacy does not produce results soon.
"I gave an order that, if within the coming days the diplomatic process does not reach a conclusion, Israeli forces will carry out the operations necessary to take control of rocket launching sites wherever they are," Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Israel could not withdraw before the arrival of an international force. "The moment we leave, Hezbollah will return."
The U.N. resolution, drafted by the U.S. and France, calls for "a full cessation of hostilities" based on "the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."
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