Israel to Occupy Area of Lebanon as Security Zone
By GREG MYRE and HELENE COOPER
Published: July 26, 2006
JERUSALEM, July 25 — Almost two weeks into its military assault on
Hezbollah, Israel said Tuesday that it would occupy a strip inside southern
Lebanon with ground troops until an international force could take its
The announcement raised the prospect of a more protracted Israeli
involvement in Lebanon than the political and military leadership previously
signaled or publicly sought. Officials have talked about limited raids into
Lebanon, but now they seem ready to commit ground forces for at least weeks,
if not months.
They said the zone would be much smaller than the strip of southern Lebanon
roughly 15 miles deep that Israel occupied for nearly two decades before
withdrawing in 2000.
As the war between Israel and Hezbollah continued, four unarmed United
Nations observers were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit their
observation post near the Israeli border, United Nations and Lebanese
officials said. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Israel “regrets the
tragic death” of the observers, and that it would investigate thoroughly.
The timetable and makeup of an international force remained vague, despite
diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her second day of a trip
to the region. Ms. Rice, who met with Israeli and Palestinian officials
after a surprise trip to Beirut on Monday, secured commitments from Israel
to allow relief aid into Lebanon, and said she would press Israel to ease
border restrictions for Palestinians.
But she left without any sign of a quick end to Israel’s military campaigns
in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, in Rome for talks on the
Middle East scheduled to start Wednesday, issued a statement saying that he
was “shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting”
of the United Nations post by the Israeli military. He said that the post,
at Khiam, was clearly marked, and called on the Israeli government to
conduct a full investigation. The official New China News Agency said one of
the dead was a Chinese observer.
Elsewhere in southern Lebanon, in fighting over the two Hezbollah
strongholds of Bint Jbail and Marun al Ras, Israel said it had killed the
Hezbollah leader in the area, Abu Jaafer, and 20 to 30 Hezbollah fighters in
a 24-hour period. At least six people were killed in two neighboring houses
in a predawn raid on the southern town of Nabatiye.
Hezbollah continued to strike at Israel, firing nearly 100 rockets as of
Tuesday night, the Israeli military said. The group’s leader, Sheik Hassan
Nasrallah, threatened missile strikes “beyond Haifa.” Hezbollah is believed
to have missiles able to reach Tel Aviv.
Another Hezbollah leader, Mahmoud Komati, deputy chief of the group’s
political arm, told The Associated Press that Hezbollah was surprised by the
force of Israel’s reaction to its capture of two Israeli soldiers. He said
Hezbollah had expected “the usual, limited” response such as commando raids
or limited attacks on Hezbollah strongholds.
Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, said Israel’s plan for a buffer zone
inside Lebanon was being worked out and did not provide details.
“We will have to build a new security strip, a security strip that will be a
cover for our forces until international forces arrive,” he said.
“We are shaping it, but you can’t draw a single line that will become a
permanent line along the entire zone,” Mr. Peretz said on Israeli radio.
“Unless there is multinational force that will enter and take control, a
multinational force with the ability to act, we will continue to fire
against anyone who enters the designated strip.”
Israeli officials, mindful of the Israeli public’s reluctance to repeat its
long occupation of southern Lebanon, say they do not plan a major ground
invasion, and do not intend to hold large parts of Lebanese territory for
extended periods. Israeli leaders say they want the Lebanese Army to assume
control of the border eventually.
Israeli troops do not yet have control over the border strip. A senior
government official said Israeli forces intended to clear out Hezbollah
strongholds in border villages as the military is already doing in Bint
Jbail and Marun al Ras.
The military plans to move into other villages as well, but “this will not
be the re-establishment of the old security zone,” said the official, who
spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak
publicly on the matter. “It is not remotely similar.”
“If there is a strong international force, and if the Lebanese government is
serious about establishing sovereignty on its border, then we will gladly
leave,” the official said.
Ms. Rice, meanwhile, won a promise from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel
to allow relief flights into Beirut International Airport, where the runways
have been bombed by Israel. Ms. Rice also told the Palestinian Authority
president, Mahmoud Abbas, that she would press Israel to ease border
restrictions for Palestinians.
Ms. Rice received a warm welcome from Mr. Olmert in Jerusalem, in contrast
to the much cooler receptions she received in the West Bank city of Ramallah,
and in Beirut on Monday.
But her visit to the West Bank had echoes of her surprise stop in Beirut. In
both cases, she assured a largely powerless leader that the United States
was sympathetic to the suffering of his people, though American leaders have
stopped short of pressuring Israel to let up on its campaign against
Ms. Rice pointedly characterized Mr. Abbas as the “duly elected president”
of the Palestinian Authority, and said “the Palestinian people have had to
live too long” under harsh conditions.
But just as pointedly, she did not respond to Mr. Abbas’s urgent appeal for
cease-fires in region, to ease what he said was suffering “beyond the
capacity of any human being to endure.”
Ms. Rice and Mr. Abbas discussed the release of an Israeli soldier who was
seized by Palestinian militants on June 25, setting off the current crisis
in Gaza. But Mr. Abbas is seen as having little influence.
Hamas, which holds the Palestinian prime minister’s post and controls the
cabinet, is demanding an exchange for a large number of Palestinian
prisoners. Also, Hamas militants were one of three factions that claimed
responsibility for seizing the soldier.
The United States, along with Israel, regards Hamas as a terrorist group and
has no official contact with it.
In Ramallah, just as in Beirut, demonstrators protested Ms. Rice’s visit.
About 250 turned out, with some carrying signs that said in Arabic and
English, “Rice, Go Home.” A general strike was called throughout the West
Bank, and shops in Ramallah were closed as Ms. Rice’s motorcade drove
through the city, just north of Jerusalem. With the Beirut airport closed,
even Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon had to make special
arrangements to travel abroad. He boarded a United Nations helicopter near a
conference center north of Beirut that took him to Cyprus. He was heading to
Rome for the international conference, which Ms. Rice will also attend.
The Lebanese government has now adopted four Hezbollah conditions for a
settlement as its own: giving the small disputed slice of border territory
known as Shabaa Farms to Lebanon, returning three Lebanese prisoners held by
Israel, ending Israeli flyovers into Lebanese airspace, and providing a map
showing the location of Israeli land mines in southern Lebanon.
The issue of Shabaa Farms has been the public rationale for allowing
Hezbollah, alone among civil war-era militias, to keep its weapons. It was,
Lebanese officials have said, resisting continued Israeli occupation.
As the fighting continued, the Israeli military said its aerial attacks
included bombing a Hezbollah rocket launching site near the southern city of
Tyre, and hitting 10 buildings used by Hezbollah in southern Beirut.
In Mughar, in northern Israel, a 15-year-old Israeli Arab girl died in a
Hezbollah rocket strike, family members said. Three other family members
Israel also hit in Gaza, with the air force bombing three buildings used for
making and storing weapons, according to the Israeli military.
A Palestinian teenager was shot and killed by Israeli troops near Gaza’s
border fence, Palestinian hospital officials said. The Israeli military said
it fired at people who had planted a bomb.
Palestinian militants fired several rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday,
wounding one agricultural worker from Thailand, the Israeli military said.
Ms. Rice said: “It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those
that don’t want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They
Ms. Rice and other administration officials have repeatedly blamed Hezbollah
for starting the crisis in Lebanon with a raid into Israel on July 12 that
resulted in the deaths of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two more
who were taken into Lebanon.
While strongly supporting Israel, the Bush administration does not want to
see the democratically elected Lebanese government harmed by the current
“I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and
sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” Ms. Rice said. “We, of course, also urgently
want to end the violence.”
Saudi Arabia pledged a financial package of $1.5 billion to aid the Lebanese
economy and help rebuild the country, the official Saudi news agency
International support is building for a multinational force in southern
Lebanon, but many issues are unclear, including which countries would send
troops. An American official traveling with Ms. Rice said he believed that
those questions would be worked out.
“I think you will hear about the impossibility of deploying an international
force until the day it is deployed,” the official told reporters, speaking
on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on
the issue. “But there will be an international force, because all the key
players want it.”
In Rome on Wednesday, Ms. Rice is expected to talk with officials from Arab
and European countries about the possible makeup and mandate of such a
With the United States’ military already stretched with commitments in Iraq
and Afghanistan, Ms. Rice has said she does not anticipate American troops’
being part of a force in Lebanon.
France is perhaps the most likely European country to contribute troops,
given its history with Lebanon. France administered Lebanon as a
protectorate from 1920 to 1943, and the former Lebanese prime minister,
Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a car bombing last year that many believe
was linked to Syria, was a close friend of the French president, Jacques
But France is now resisting the American idea of moving a force in quickly,
insisting on a cease-fire first, followed by a political agreement between
Israel and Lebanon that would also be accepted by Hezbollah, said Jean-Baptiste
Mattéi, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Greg Myre reported from Jerusalem for this article, and Helene Cooper from
Ramallah, West Bank, and Rome. Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from
Beirut, and Elaine Sciolino from Paris.