Olmert Sets Conditions for End to Fighting
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JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday the fighting in Lebanon would end when the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas were freed, rocket attacks on Israel were stopped, and the Lebanese army was deployed along the border.
Delivering an impassioned speech to parliament after six days of fierce fighting, Olmert said Israel would have no mercy on militants who attack its cities with rockets, and he pledged to destroy terrorist infrastructure.
“We shall seek out every installation, hit every terrorist helping to attack Israeli citizens, destroy all the terrorist infrastructure, in every place. We shall continue this until Hezbollah does the basic and fair things required of it by every civilized person,” he said in his first major address since the fighting in Lebanon began last week.
“Israel will not agree to live in the shadow of the threat of missiles or rockets against its residents.”
Israeli officials have said publicly that Israel would not stop fighting until Hezbollah, a Shiite militia that controls much of south Lebanon, is dismantled. But Olmert’s comments Monday _ seeking the release of the soldiers, the end of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, and the deployment of Lebanese troops in south Lebanon _ seemed to be a softening of that position.
Israeli officials said earlier Monday that Olmert had conveyed Israel’s position to Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who is attempting to broker the cease-fire deal.
As he spoke, a U.N. delegation also trying to mediate and end to the fighting arrived in Israel from Beirut.
“We hope that we will be able to see our way toward … a de-escalation of the crisis,” said Vijay Nambiar, head of the delegation. He said he would pass on information gathered in the Lebanese capital with Israeli officials, but declined to elaborate.
In the past six days, 24 Israelis, half of them civilians, were killed in the fighting with Lebanon, while nearly 200 Lebanese, many of them civilians, were killed on the other side. The fighting began when Hezbollah kidnapped the soldiers in a cross-border raid. Since then, Israel has pounded Lebanon with airstrikes and Hezbollah has fired barrages of rockets and missiles into Israeli towns and cities.
“We are not looking for war or direct conflict, but if necessary we will not be frightened by it,” Olmert said.
He also praised the Israeli people for being strong and united in the face of the rocket bombardment that has sent about a half-million Israelis into bomb shelters. He said a Jewish prayer for the soldiers and said he had pictures of the three captured soldiers in his office and he looked at them often.
“We shall do everything with all our might to bring them home,” he said, but added that Israel could not make a deal that would lead to further kidnappings.
He spoke at length about many of those killed and said that Israel was fighting for them.
“When missiles are launched at our residents and our towns, our answer will be war waged at full strength, with all determination, courage and sacrifice,” he said.
Olmert also accused the Hamas militants in Gaza, where Israel has been waging an offensive for three weeks to free a soldier captured earlier, and Hezbollah in Lebanon of being agents of Iran and Syria.