The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on an official visit today. Before setting off, Ms. Rice made a speech with words of support for Israel, placing responsibility for the bloodshed on Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Reinforcing Israel’s right to self-defense, the US Secretary of State appealed to avoid causing victims amongst Lebanon’s civilian population. However, Israel’s ground defense army (ZAHAL) is to be extended. The fact that this weekend Israel carried out a large-scale mobilization of reserve army forces is evidence of this.
In Israel, Ms. Rice meet with the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and the Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. Rice will also spend time on the Palestinian territory, where she will meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authoroty. The meeting will take place in Ramallah on the West Bank of Jordan.
Israel’s Ministry of Defense told the Vremya Novostei newspaper that after these negotiations, the USA will grant Israel another week of active military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon. During this time, the White House will block all diplomatic activity, (including Russian), directed against the military operation.
The Israelis have prepared a present in honor of Rice’s visit: Minister of Defense Amir Peretz has announced that when the military operation is over, Israel will support the idea of expanding the multi-national forces in the South of Lebanon with a weighty mandate. It would be desirable if the peacemaking contingent consisted of representatives of countries belonging to NATO. The question of creating a buffer zone in the region of the Lebanese-Israeli border is fundamental to today’s negotiations between Condoleezza Rice and the Israeli authorities.
Since 1978, temporary UN (UNIFIL) forces consisting of almost two thousand servicemen have been located on the Lebanese-Israeli border. A source from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the problem with UNIFIL is that these forces are not armed and cannot protect themselves from Hezbollah and that is why, on the contrary, they tend to collaborate with the terrorists.
Aside from the war on two fronts in Lebanon and in the Palestinian sector of Gaza, Israel has entered into an additional combat on a diplomatic level. The heads of the Ministries of Defense of France and Germany and the British Middle East foreign minister recently arrived in Israel. “Our task is to achieve, via intermediaries, the creation of an international coalition, which will ultimately demand that Lebanon fulfill Resolution 1559 of the UN Security Council, which talks of the necessity of disarming Hezbollah, as well as advancing the demand directed to the Lebanese army of taking the entire Lebanese territory under control,” a source said.
Philippe Douste-Blazy, the head of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs even had to experience a missile firing. The warning alarm sounded while he was in Haifa. He and the mayor of Haifa had to take refuge in a bomb shelter. Immediately following this, the head of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly left the city. As a result of that bombardment, two people died and 17 were wounded.
Yesterday evening, the representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alexander Saltanov arrived in Israel. Anatoly Yurkov, the head of the press service of the Russian embassy in Israel said that the Russian official has meetings scheduled with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice-President Shimon Peres. There may be a meeting with the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Russia has already appealed to hold a meeting “between all countries and sides that may genuinely contribute to overcoming the crisis”. “The ideal thing, evidently, would be to gather in Beirut as soon as possible, for example at the beginning of the week”, said the Russian Ministry of Defense in a statement.
It is unlikely, however, that this daring proposal will be accepted (the head of Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Valid al-Muallem proposed to meet in the South of Lebanon). International intermediaries will sooner be meeting in Rome, to where Condoleezza Rice will also be flying.
For now, stopping the war is not possible. In 12 days, 37 Israelites have been killed: 20 servicemen and 17 civilians. Lebanese victims are already in the hundreds, over 350 people have died.
In an attempt to bring an end to missile attacks in the North of Israel, ZAHAL has led its ground troops to the South of Lebanon, taking control over the village Marun Ar Ras, one kilometer from the border. The Israelis can go as far as Hezbollah’s strong point Bint-Jubayl, five kilometers from the border. But to advance further would be dangerous. Yesterday, Damascus informed on their readiness to being a conflict. “If Israel invades Lebanon on dry land and locates itself near our borders, Syria is not going to sit quietly, it will take part in the conflict,” Syria’s Information Minister Muhsin Bilal said yesterday. Syrian troops are ready for battle.
“Our air force has not yet annihilated all Hezbollah’s missile installations, they are well disguised. Terrorists can hide these installations in garages or underground tunnels and caves. The air force is not capable of finding this type of object. A ground operation is being carried out to render the launching installations harmless and destroy all Hezbollah’s ammunition,” explained Israeli servicemen.
Translated by Leila Wilmers