Israeli warplanes roar over Lebanese cities

Israeli warplanes roared over cities on Lebanon's northern Mediterranean coast and in the east along the border with Syria on Monday, after the Lebanese defense minister warned rogue Palestinian rocket teams against attacking Israel and provoking retaliation that could unravel an already shaky cease-fire.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected participation in the international peacekeeping force by countries that don't have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, his office said Sunday. That would eliminate Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh - among the only countries to have offered front-line troops for the expanded force.

Olmert also ruled out peace talks with Syria as long as it supports "terror organizations." Earlier Monday, a top government official suggested it was time to resume talks with Syria despite its support for Hezbollah.

With concern mounting over the fragile truce, Israel sent war planes Monday over the coastal city of Tripoli, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Beirut, and over Baalbek, scene of an Israeli commando raid two days ago which Israel said was to interdict weapons shipments for Hezbollah from Syria.

Lebanon considers overflights as violations of the U.N. resolution that ended 34 days of fighting last week.

Defense Minister Elias Murr said he was confident that Hezbollah would hold its fire but warned Syrian-backed Palestinian militants against rocket attacks which might draw Israeli retaliation and re-ignite full-scale fighting.

"We consider that when the resistance (Hezbollah) is committed not to fire rockets, then any rocket that is fired from the Lebanese territory would be considered collaboration with Israel to provide a pretext (for Israel) to strike," he said.

Israel has long accused Syria, along with Iran, of arming and supporting Hezbollah. During the war, however, Israel avoided trying to draw Syria into the conflict, apparently fearing another front or closing peace options.

On Monday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Israel should resume the negotiations that broke down in 2000.

"What we did with Egypt and Jordan is also legitimate in this case," Dichter told Israeli Army Radio. Asked if that meant Israel should withdraw to its international border with Syria, he said: "Yes."

But Olmert ruled out talks with the Syrians unless they stop sponsoring "terror organizations."

"I recommend not to get carried away with any false hopes," Olmert said Monday, during a tour of northern Israel. "When Syria stops support for terror, when it stops giving missiles to terror organizations, then we will be happy to negotiate with them...We're not going into any negotiations until basic steps are taken which can be the basis for any negotiations."

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Israel had other things on its mind right now and "that at the moment, we can't take on too much.

"We have the burden of Lebanon and we have the negotiations with the Palestinians," Peres told Israel Radio. "I don't think a country like ours can deal with so manyissuesat atime."

As part of the cease-fire agreement, Lebanon has begun deploying 15,000 soldiers to the south, putting a government force in the region for the first time in four decades. They are to be joined by an equal force of international peacekeepers, but wrangling among countries expected to send troops has so far delayed assembly of the force.

But the reluctance of European countries to commit substantial numbers of troops has raised doubts about whether the truce can hold, the AP says.

France, which commands the existing force U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force. But President Jacques Chirac disappointed the U.N. and other countries last week by merely doubling France's contingent of 200 troops.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he has called for a meeting of European Union diplomats in Brussels this week to "find out as rapidly as possible what the different European partners plan to do concerning Lebanon."

Douste-Blazy indicated more European troops could be sent later, once the U.N. has clarified the mandate of the force, including the rules of engagement.

In Beirut, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, a Sunni Muslim, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite and Hezbollah supporters, decried the destruction wrought by Israeli bombs as "crimes against humanity" during a highly publicized tour of the devastated guerrilla stronghold in the south of the capital Sunday.

"What we see today is an image of the crimes Israel has committed ... there is no other description other than a criminal act that shows Israel's hatred to destroy Lebanon and its unity," Saniora said to a big crowd of reporters and television crews invited on the tour of the region where Israeli airstrikes destroyed whole neighborhoods.

"I hope the international media transmits this picture to every person in the world so that it shows this criminal act, this crime against humanity," the Western-backed prime minister said.

Arab League foreign ministers convened for an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss a plan to create a fund to rebuild Lebanon. But the meeting ended with no plan, but foreign ministers said a social and economic council would convene to discuss how to fund the rebuilding.

Diplomats said Arabs want to counter the flood of money that is believed to be coming from Iran to Hezbollah to finance reconstruction projects. An estimated 15,000 apartments were destroyed and 140 bridges hit by Israeli bombardment in Lebanon, along with power and desalination plants and other key infrastructure.

"This is a war over the hearts and mind of the Lebanese, which Arabs should not lose to the Iranians this time," said a senior Arab League official, speaking on condition of because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has not said where the money would come from, but Iran, which helped create Hezbollah and is its strongest supporter, is widely believed to have opened its treasury for the rebuilding program.