July 29, 2006

Hizbollah demands halt to “aggression”

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hizbollah pledged on Saturday to deny
the United States and Israel any political gains from the war
in Lebanon as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to
Jerusalem to discuss ways to end the 18-day-old conflict.

Israel rejected as unnecessary a United Nations plea for a
truce to aid civilians trapped by fighting.

Hours later, an Israeli air strike killed a woman and six
children in a house in the southern village of Nmeiriya, medics
said. At least 469 people, mostly civilians, have been killed
in Lebanon in the conflict, and 51 Israelis have died.

In an interview with Reuters, Hizbollah's deputy chief Naim
Kassem demanded an immediate halt to "Israeli aggression."

Asked how Hizbollah viewed U.S. demands for its guerrillas
to disarm and make way for an international force in south
Lebanon, Kassem said: "America and Israel have no right to get
a result from their defeat. There is no (military) victory for
America and Israel for them to make political gains."

Pressed on possible deployment of such a force, he said
Hizbollah had decided not to talk about this in public.

President George W. Bush said the conflict in Lebanon was
part of the wider struggle against terrorism and any strategy
to end the violence must address the threat posed by Hizbollah.

"As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must
recognize that Lebanon is the latest flashpoint in a broader
struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across
the region," he said in his weekly radio address.

Rice, who was flying to Jerusalem from Malaysia, was due to
meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss the outlines
of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"She will be able to tell us exactly what kind of
international force has to be sent here and what kind of
resolution has to be passed by the United Nations," Israeli
government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

Rice, who will meet Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora
later in her Middle East mission, said she expected her talks
to be tough. "There has to be give and take," she added.

Neither side showed much willingness for compromise.

Israel dismissed a proposal by U.N. Emergency Relief
Coordinator Jan Egeland for a 72-hour truce to let relief
workers reach stricken civilians and deliver emergency aid.

"There is no need for a 72-hour temporary ceasefire because
Israel has opened a humanitarian corridor to and from Lebanon,"
Pazner said, drawing a swift rebuke from France.


While Israel has let aid shipments through its blockade of
Lebanon, international relief agencies say they have been
unable to get Israel to guarantee safe passage to civilians in
southern areas hardest hit by Israeli bombing aimed at

France, which has repeatedly called for an immediate
ceasefire, said it "deeply regrets" Israel's rejection of
Egeland's idea. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy
said he would press Israel to change its mind.

Hizbollah's Kassem reiterated the group's demand for a halt
to Israel's onslaught on Lebanon, begun after guerrillas
captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July

"It is natural that we demand it is ended unconditionally
and that all the displaced people return to their villages and
towns," he said in written answers to questions.

Washington has pledged $30 million to help Lebanon but
America's attitude to the war has angered many Lebanese.

"They send the Israelis smart bombs and they send us
blankets. If it was up to me, I wouldn't let this ship dock
here. I would dump this stuff in the sea," said a Lebanese
soldier watching U.S. relief goods being unloaded in Beirut.

A U.S. military catamaran had brought blankets, tarpaulins
and medical kits for some of the 800,000 war-displaced people.

The World Food Programme said it had also opened the first
land crossing point for aid convoys into Lebanon.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited countries
willing to join an international force in Lebanon to meet in
New York on Monday to begin planning, even though its mandate
has yet to be set by the Security Council.

Major powers say the force cannot deploy before a ceasefire
or operate without the consent of Lebanon, Israel and

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out any immediate
German participation in the force, saying the German military
was already stretched in other operations abroad.

Bush has blamed Hizbollah and its main allies Syria and
Iran for the conflict in Lebanon. The Shi'ite group says it is
fighting a U.S.-Israeli plan for hegemony in the Middle East.

Lebanon's Siniora argues that the main problems include
Israel's occupation of the disputed Shebaa Farms area, claimed
by Lebanon, and its detention of Lebanese prisoners.

The Lebanon war has overshadowed the conflict in the Gaza
Strip, where Israel is waging a month-old offensive to recover
a soldier captured by militants and halt Palestinian rocket

Israeli aircraft bombed a suspected Hamas arms factory and
border tunnel in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. Troops entered a
northern area to look for explosives and tunnels, the army

At least 150 Palestinians, around half of them gunmen, have
been killed in the offensive.