Thursday, July 27, 2006

Security Council Fails to Agree on Statement About Observers Death

Thursday July 27, 11:36 AM

Security Council fails to agree on statement on UN observer deaths

The UN Security Council failed to agree a statement condemning the killing of four UN military observers in an attack by Israel in Lebanon, diplomats said.

The council will renew its negotiations again on Thursday, French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the council president, told reporters.

Ambassadors announced they could not agree a presidential statement following a day of haggling.

China had originally demanded that the statement, which is not binding, condemn the attack while the United States would not accept any criticism of its ally Israel, diplomats said.

Negotiations went on late into evening after China's ambassador Wang Guangya refused to put back a result until Thursday, the sources said. A Chinese soldier was among the four UN observers killed in the Lebanese town of Khiam on Tuesday. The others were from Austria, Canada and Finland.

China distributed a draft statement at the start of the day calling the attack "apparently deliberate" but this was immediately rejected by US ambassador John Bolton.

By the end of the day, the 15 nation council was studying the third edited version of the draft.

The latest version, distributed by the UN press service, said only that "The Security Council condemns any deliberate attack against UN personnel and emphasizes that any such attacks are unacceptable."

Wang said that a briefing to the council by Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, gave indications that the attack was deliberate.

"I think the secretary's briefing was clear, it was very clear in this direction," said Wang.

"Any attack on United Nations positions and United Nations personnel is inexcusable and unacceptable," said Wang.

But Bolton said there was no sign that the attack was deliberate.

The draft statement said: "The Security Council is deeply shocked and distressed by the firing by the Israeli Defence Forces on a United Nations observer post in southern Lebanon."

It called on Israel and the United Nations "to conduct a comprehensive inquiry". Israel and the United Nations have already announced their own inquiries, but Israel has not said whether it will accept a UN request for a joint investigation.

Israel has been attacking Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon since July 12 after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. Hundreds of people have been killed in Lebanon but the peacekeepers are the first UN fatalities.

A presidential statement has to be passed unanimously but unlike a Security Council resolution has no binding nature.

China has taken a leading role in the international condemnation of the attack. The Beijing government has already demanded an apology from Israel and called for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "deep regrets" over the deaths in a phone call with UN chief Kofi Annan on Wednesday, his office said.

Annan said Tuesday that the attack was "apparently deliberate" and this brought a strong response from Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

Gillerman told CNN television that it was a "bitter, difficult and cruel war" in southern Lebanon.

"We are very, very sorry, and we regret this tragic incident and extend condolences to the families of the Chinese, Finnish, Canadian and Austrian families," Gillerman said.

"I seriously do not believe that Kofi Annan believes this was a deliberate target. I think and I hope that his statement was made in haste. I believe it is premature, irresponsible and regrettable. I don't think anybody in his right mind thinks that Israel is targeting UN personnel," the Israeli envoy added.

Israeli troops suffer largest one-day loss

Peace talks stall; 10 Palestinians injured in airstrike in Tyre

NORTHERN ISRAEL (CNN) -- The Israeli military on Wednesday suffered its largest loss of life in its 15-day offensive against Hezbollah guerillas as nine Israeli soldiers were killed while fighting in southern Lebanese towns.

Eight soldiers were killed and 22 more were wounded in Bint Jbeil, near the Israeli border, while battling militiamen in what the Israel Defense Forces has called Hezbollah's "terror capital."

There were heavy casualties among Hezbollah fighters, according to Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah has not released casualty figures since fighting began.

On Tuesday the IDF said it had taken control of the city. On Wednesday it said more troops were being sent there.

In nearby Maroun al-Ras, an Israeli army officer was killed and five soldiers were wounded in fighting, according to the IDF.

On the Mediterranean coast, 10 people were injured Wednesday in the Lebanese port city of Tyre when Israeli airstrikes destroyed a 10-story building, city officials said.

Smoke rose over the city after two large explosions, and people near the building were covered in dust and blood as they fled through the rubble.

The blast came just hours after a ship with hundreds of foreigners aboard departed the seaport in Tyre. Residents in Tyre said they were concerned that Israeli airstrikes would intensify after the Westerners left.

The ship, chartered by Canada, was bound for Cyprus filled with Americans, Australians, Britons, Canadians and other nationalities.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Udi Adam said the building was targeted because "there are launchers [there] that fire missiles at Haifa."

Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, has been the target of numerous air attacks since the conflict escalated July 12 after Hezbollah guerillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Adam also told reporters that an end to the fighting may be near.

"I assume that it will go on for a few more weeks," he said. "And in a few more weeks, I believe we will be able to put an end to this operation -- a successful end."

Border push

Israeli troops have been involved in fierce ground fighting in Lebanese border towns since entering Maroun al-Ras last week.

The goal, according to the IDF, is to push Hezbollah guerillas away from the border and reduce the Islamic militia's capability to launch Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Hezbollah fighters launched 102 rockets into Israel on Wednesday morning, wounding 18 people, Israeli police said. Twenty-seven of the rockets landed in cities, the police said.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Tuesday that his fighters would take the battle "beyond Haifa." However, as of Wednesday the farthest south Hezbollah rockets had struck was in Nazareth, 20 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Haifa.

Since July 12, at least 398 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in Israeli strikes, Lebanese sources say. The IDF said the death toll from Hezbollah rockets striking Israel and the fighting in southern Lebanon is 50 -- 19 of them civilians.

The fighting also has wounded more than 1,400 in Lebanon and more than 300 Israeli civilians, the sources said.

Four U.N. observers died Tuesday when an Israeli precision-guided bomb hit their post in southern Lebanon, said Lebanese security sources and a Western diplomat.

Israel has said the attack was an accident.

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan contended otherwise, and a U.N. officer said the Israeli military liaison was told 10 times in six hours that aerial attacks were getting close to the bunker manned by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Israel was investigating the bombing.

"The government of Israel has definitively said that they were not deliberately targeting the UNIFIL outpost," he said. "We certainly take them at their word and note that there's no evidence to the contrary."

The international U.N. force in southern Lebanon comprises 2,000 troops -- including 50 military observers -- and 400 civilians. It has been there since 1978 to observe the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, maintain security and eventually return authority over the area to the Lebanese government.

Helping Hezbollah

CNN learned Wednesday that Hezbollah isn't the only militia in Lebanon fighting Israeli troops.

Officials with the Amal Party, headed by speaker of the Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri, said militias loyal to Berri have been involved in every major battle since fighting began.

Amal is a Shiite political and paramilitary organization, like Hezbollah, and fought against Israel in the 1990s during the occupation of southern Lebanon.

Eight Amal fighters have been killed in the past three days, during which Berri met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss a solution to the crisis.

Progress unseen in talks

Talks in Rome, Italy, floundered Wednesday after the United States disagreed with European and Arab nations over how to defuse the situation, according to sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The United States has resisted demands for an immediate cease-fire, insisting that a cessation of hostilities must be part of a wider plan to permanently disarm Hezbollah. Arab and European leaders say the violence must stop first.

Meanwhile, Israel, which was not invited to participate in the talks, said it hoped "the international community will act immediately to strengthen the Lebanese army" so the army can take charge of southern Lebanon after the talks.

In Gaza, where Israel is conducting another offensive, 12 Palestinians were killed and 50 were wounded during an IDF operation in Gaza City's Sajaiyeh neighborhood, Palestinian medical sources said.

Six of those killed were Hamas militants and one was from Islamic Jihad, the sources said.

The Israeli Air Force attacked 14 militant cells in the neighborhood, according to the IDF. The air force also struck two weapons-storage facilities in Rafah and Jebalya, the IDF said.

Throughout Gaza, 25 Palestinians were killed, including 12 militants and two children, Palestinian medical and security sources said. Seven were killed by Israeli tank fire Wednesday morning, Palestinian sources said.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Marcia Biggs, John King, Karl Penhaul, John Roberts and Fionnuala Sweeney contributed to this report.

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