JERUSALEM (Apr. 21)
Multinational diplomatic initiatives have so far failed to bring an end to the conflict on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
And it remained unclear whether peace was elusive because there were so many potential mediators — some, perhaps, having conflicting visions of what would constitute a meaningful formula for ending the fighting.
Along with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who arrived for talks Saturday in Damascus before flying on to Israel, the foreign ministers of France, Russia, Ireland, Spain and Italy were also in the region this week, attempting to work out a solution to the fighting between Israel and the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement.
At a joint news conference Sunday with Christopher, Prime Minister Shimon Peres welcomed the international effort to reach a cease-fire, but stressed his preference for the American line of diplomacy.
“I made it clear. We can have many fronts, but one channel. If there will be more than one channel, there will be total confusion,” Peres said. “Many agreements will mean no agreement at all.”
Peres added that while all sides were “trying to reach common ground,” Israel would not accept a unilateral cease-fire.
Christopher, who met Saturday for more than two hours in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez Assad, told reporters that no agreement had yet been reached, but voiced optimism that “we will ultimately achieve our goals.”
The backing of Syria, which maintains some 40,000 troops in Lebanon and which controls Hezbollah’s main supply routes, is crucial for any truce to hold.
While Christopher was flying between Damascus and Jerusalem over the weekend, Foreign Ministers Yevgeny Primakov of Russia and Herve de Charette of France were taking their own proposals to Syria and Lebanon.
Those proposals reportedly included calls for Israel to withdraw from its security zone in southern Lebanon as part of a cease-fire.
Syria and Lebanon have voiced their preference for those proposals over the American initiative, which is more ambiguous about the future of the security zone.
Lebanese officials, angered by the American refusal to condemn the Israeli shelling of Lebanon, have announced that they would take their case to the U.N. General Assembly.
Christopher’s talks in Jerusalem were sandwiched between two stops in Damascus — part of an urgent shuttle mission prompted by Israel’s shelling last week of a U.N. post in southern Lebanon that was crowded with hundreds of Lebanese refugees, killing at least 75.
Israel Defense Force officers met with U.N. peacekeepers last Friday to express their regret for the casualties.
The April 18 shelling drew an international outcry and prompted the dispatch of numerous diplomatic teams to the region.
Iran, which provides financing and weapons to Hezbollah, also dispatched its foreign minister to Damascus for talks.
As the diplomatic contacts continued Sunday, Israeli artillery and warplanes rocketed Hezbollah targets southeast of Tyre and around Nabatiya.
Israeli gunships off the coast shelled a coastal road leading south from Beirut to prevent supplies from reaching Hezbollah fighters. Two Lebanese were reported injured in the shelling.
Despite the Israeli barrage, Hezbollah continued to fire rockets into northern Israel.
In Kiryat Shmona, the northern city heavily pounded by Katyusha rockets, another 150 residents evacuated the city Sunday, joining the more than 16,000 people who have already left.
The remaining 4,000 or so have been staying in underground shelters since Israel launched Operation Grapes of Wrath on April 11.
Hezbollah fired close to 500 Katyusha rockets at northern Israel since the operation began, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which estimated that the attacks have caused more than $10 million in damage.