Resolve Is Eroding in Face of Call to Disarm Hezbollah

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The New York Sun

UNITED NATIONS — As all sides prepare for Lebanese and international troops to replace the Israeli army in Lebanon in as early as 10 days, officials in Europe, America, and Lebanon have made clear that the resolve to confront and disarm Hezbollah in the aftermath of the war is fast eroding.

After meeting Secretary-General Annan yesterday, Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, hailed the security council resolution that ended the fighting Monday morning, calling it a beginning of a “process” in which “the international community” is expected to end the presence of Hezbollah as an armed force.

Israel has to be convinced, she said, that provisions such as an embargo by the Lebanese army and the multinational force to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah are implemented. The United Nations, however, demands that the current Israeli-imposed blockade is removed even before such a mechanism is in place.

U.N. officials say that within 10 days to two weeks, 3,500 troops will join the 2,000-troop UNIFIL stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978, to aid the Lebanese army that yesterday started deploying south of the Litani River.

But as Ms. Livni called implementation of resolution 1701 “a test” for the United Nations, Secretary of State Rice was quoted as saying the multinational force envisioned in the resolution is not expected to disarm Hezbollah, which she said should be done “voluntarily.”

Announcing that the Lebanese army will deploy troops in the south, officials of Prime Minister Siniora’s government yesterday left vague the question of Hezbollah’s disarmament. Lebanon’s army will allow no troops other than its own and those in the multinational force to carry weapons, they said, leaving open the possibility that Hezbollah will still maintain huge concealed arms caches.

Paris yesterday again sidestepped an announcement about the size and scope of the French contribution for the multinational force. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France was ready to lead the force but complained that its mandate remained “fuzzy.”

Ms. Livni told Turtle Bay reporters that Israel will insist that Lebanon’s army, with the help of the proposed multinational force, will enforce a border embargo “so Syria and Iran are prevented from rearming Hezbollah.”

But Washington yesterday sounded less than resolute on the disarming of Hezbollah. “I don’t think there is an expectation that this force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah,” Ms. Rice told USA Today, according to a transcript of an interview published on the newspaper’s Web site.

“I think it’s a little bit of a misreading of how you disarm a militia,” she said. “You have to have a plan, first of all, for the disarmament of a militia, and then the hope is that some people lay down their arms voluntarily.”

In Beirut, the pro-Syrian Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, said, “It is disgraceful to demand the disarmament of the national resistance while the blood of martyrs is still warm.” He added, “How can they ask us to disarm the only force in the Arab world who stood up to Israel?”

Confirming reports of an agreement to allow Hezbollah to keep concealed weapons, Hezbollah’s top official in southern Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, told reporters in Tyre: “Just like in the past, Hezbollah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now.”

Ms. Livni told Israeli reporters the Israel Defense Force will need to be convinced that a weapons embargo, as spelled in resolution 1701, is in place.

“Israel cannot stay in Lebanon forever to ensure that no arms-carrying trucks go in” through the Syrian border, Ms. Livni said yesterday, explaining why she insisted that the weapons embargo should be included in resolution 1701.

The embargo, she said, was “important for the region’s future.”

U.N. officials, who in the last few days said humanitarian missions are prevented from extending aid in Lebanon, demanded, however, that Israel immediately remove a blockade the IDF has imposed on the country.

U.N. spokesmen so far declined to answer questions about how they intended to ensure that no Hezbollah combatants or weapons are smuggled in with the convoys of returning refugees which have been pouring into southern Lebanon in the last few days.

Israel will also insist that the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, as well as Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped earlier by Hamas, will be released unconditionally, she added.

“The fact that the kidnapped soldiers have not been released by Hezbollah is a clear violation” of the resolution, Ms. Livni said, adding that she had asked Mr. Annan to meet with the families of the soldiers and for him to ensure that the Red Cross is allowed to see them without delay.

Mr. Annan’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said yesterday that two aides, Vijay Nambiar and Terje Roed-Larsen, will be sent to the region for a week-long mission. Mr. Annan might go to the region as well, aides said.

The New York Sun

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