April 27, 1996 in Nation/World

Christopher Delivers Cease-Fire Military Restriction Put On Combatants In Israeli-Hezbollah War In Lebanon

William Drozdiak Washington Post
 

The Clinton administration succeeded Friday in brokering a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Lebanon, ending 16 days of intense rocketing and shelling that drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and threatened to derail the Middle East peace process.

“It’s a boy!” exulted Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who welcomed the deal born after a week of negotiations. Secretary of State Warren Christopher shuttled almost constantly between Israel and Syria in search of a way to end the Israeli air and artillery attacks on Lebanon and Lebanese guerrilla rocket volleys on northern Israel.

The agreement, which bars attacks on civilian targets or from civilian areas, in effect restored a 1993 verbal accord between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla forces that had broken down in recent weeks. U.S. officials said this version will be stronger and easier to enforce because it is written down and contains added guarantees.

But the violent legacy of the Israeli offensive - more than 150 Lebanese killed and some 500,000 people driven from their homes - and the unresolved status of Israeli troops occupying a strip of southern Lebanon left a volatile situation on the craggy border hills that form the last active Arab-Israeli confrontation line.

At a joint news conference with Peres, Christopher said he recognizes the cease-fire is “not a substitute for a complete and permanent solution” to the state of belligerence that still exists on paper between Israel and its northern Arab neighbors. But he stressed it could restore “a climate of stability and tranquility” in the region necessary to achieve a comprehensive peace.

President Clinton, in a White House appearance, applauded the cease-fire, while continuing his stance of avoiding even veiled criticism of Israel. He said America’s “thoughts and prayers are with the innocent civilians and their families in Lebanon and in Israel who have suffered so much during the last two weeks.”

Christopher said that in the wake of the border cease-fire the United States will set a date “very promptly” to resume direct peace talks between Israel and Syria. Those talks were cut off by Israel in the wake of several suicide bomber attacks within Israel. U.S. officials said it was doubtful, however, that the negotiations could start before Israeli elections scheduled May 29.

But the primary purpose of his mission, Christopher said, was to halt the devastating spate of attacks against civilian targets.

“We have achieved … an agreement that will save lives and end the suffering of people on both sides of the border. Carrying out these understandings will end the Katyusha rocket attacks and protect civilians in both Israel and Lebanon, allowing them to return to their homes and leave the air raid shelters,” he said.

Israeli and Muslim guerrilla guns fell silent today as the truce went into effect at 4 a.m. local time (6 p.m. Friday PDT).

Shiite Muslim guerrilla forces in Lebanon will not attack Israel with Katyusha rockets or any other weapons, while Israel pledges not to fire at any civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon.

Although the issue was Lebanese guerrilla attacks on Israel and Israeli attacks on Lebanon, Syria was Christopher’s main interlocutor along with Israel because of the predominant Syrian role in Lebanon and the 35,000 Syrian troops who control much of the country.

The four-point understanding built on the informal pledge to avoid civilian casualties that was forged by Christopher in 1993 but which fell apart as Lebanese guerrillas stepped up attacks on Israeli troops in Lebanon and Israel retaliated with increasing fury, drawing the rocket fire into northern Israel.

Lebanon promised to thwart the pro-Iranian Shiite guerrillas belonging to Hezbollah, or Party of God, from using any civilian areas or industrial and electrical installations as “launching grounds” for attacks inside Israel. Although the promise was made formally by the Lebanese government, in fact Syria was being counted on to guarantee the pledge.

While Israel’s leadership praised the agreement, Syria and Lebanon were more muted in their support. Syria said it would compel Hezbollah to abide by its terms, but emphasized that it “does not abandon the legitimate right of the Lebanese resistance to confront the Israeli occupation” in the security zone and said Hezbollah guerrillas would remain free to conduct military operations against Israeli soldiers there.

Hezbollah’s leader, Said Hasan Nasrallah, said his group will abide by the accord, the Reuter news agency reported from Damascus.

“Time for the cease-fire will be announced by the concerned capitals. When it is announced and the Israeli enemy stops its aggression we will certainly abide and stop firing Katyushas at the (Israeli) settlements,” Nasrallah said after talks with Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa of Syria.

Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, acknowledged that he felt no choice but to sign the accord because of the urgency in stopping the demolition of his country by Israel’s enormous firepower.

“All the killing we have seen and all the destruction was without any use. We said at the beginning that this problem cannot be solved by force; it can be solved only by negotiation and that’s what happened,” Hariri said.

A monitoring group will be established to cope with any violations of the cease-fire. Any complaints must be filed within 24 hours to the group, which will consist of officials from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, the United States and France.

MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WAR TAKES TOLL Facts relating to the cease-fire: Casualties - At least 152 people killed, all on Lebanese soil, most Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah said it lost six fighters, while Israel estimated the Hezbollah dead at 50. At least 339 people were injured on both sides of the border. No Israeli civilians were reported killed. Refugees - An estimated 500,000 Lebanese civilians were driven from their homes in the south and some 20,000 Israelis were displaced from northern towns. Damage - Israeli airstrikes damaged two power relay stations, water reservoirs and roads. Hezbollah rockets damaged scores of Israeli homes and buildings.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WAR TAKES TOLL Facts relating to the cease-fire: Casualties - At least 152 people killed, all on Lebanese soil, most Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah said it lost six fighters, while Israel estimated the Hezbollah dead at 50. At least 339 people were injured on both sides of the border. No Israeli civilians were reported killed. Refugees - An estimated 500,000 Lebanese civilians were driven from their homes in the south and some 20,000 Israelis were displaced from northern towns. Damage - Israeli airstrikes damaged two power relay stations, water reservoirs and roads. Hezbollah rockets damaged scores of Israeli homes and buildings.


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