Hours before the arrival of the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the region, and amid increasing signals that she may visit Lebanon, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said in an interview with Reuters television yesterday that "peace is very close and an agreement could be finished in three months between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, if Israel has a real and fundamental decision to live in peace ".
"Such an agreement could be arrived at only if Israel accepts to withdraw from all the occupied territories", he said. "With all my heart I hope Israel would review its policy, get back to the table of negotiations and finalize a peace agreement as soon as possible".
Hariri, who is leaving this evening on a 2-day official visit to Paris, said he would come back if Mrs. Albright decided to stop by. He did not mention what Lebanon would do if Israel decides to implement a unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon. But he said all attention should be focused on reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
He said he believes the US, President Clinton and Mrs. Albright are keen on achieving a comprehensive peace in the region. He said Israel's security couldn't be guaranteed without permanent peace in the region, because "security is the fruit of political agreements and cannot be achieved by force".
Between 1:00 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. today, two Israeli landing attempts were reportedly carried along the coastal line of Sidon and Jiyyeh, south of Beirut. The said attempts were preceded by an intensive activity of Israeli gunboats along the entirety of south Lebanon's coastal line. The first landing attempt took place near the Maslakh-Rahbat coastal line, towards the southern entrance of Sidon, and was repelled by Lebanese Army artillery. The Lebanese Army also repelled another landing attempt near the coast of Jiyyeh.
During the two attempts, Israeli gunboats supported by Israeli warplanes and helicopters were used. Later the same day, the Lebanese Army worked on deploying troops and posts along the coast of Sidon, amid a state of maximum alert. Some news reports said the Israeli moves were either military drills or mock landings.
The five-nation ceasefire monitoring group after a 26-hour meeting in Naqoura yesterday, called Israel "to take sufficient precautions in the future to avoid any violation of the [April] understanding, even if the violation is not deliberate". It also urged Lebanon to "make sure the Lebanese armed groups are using care in choosing their fire-launching positions".
The Group which ended its meeting at 1:30 p.m. yesterday, was originally convened to discuss two complaints: One from Lebanon relating to killing one civilian woman and wounding four others during Last Friday's commando raid; and the other from Israel relating to using a civilian area by a "Lebanese armed group" to launch an attack against the Israeli post of Dabshe where one Israeli officer was killed.
In its final statement, the Group drew the following conclusions:
1. With regard to the Lebanese complaint which was based on items 2 and 3 of the understanding, the group admitted that at least one civilian was killed and four others wounded during a military operation launched by the Israeli forces, and the subsequent military clashes that took place in an agricultural area near the Lebanese village of Nsariyyeh.
The Group considered that Israel should take sufficient precautions in the future to avoid violating the understanding during its military operations, even if that violation was not deliberate.
2. With regard to the Israeli complaint which was based on item 3 of the understanding, the Group admitted that a Lebanese armed group has launched mortar and artillery shells from the proximity of houses in upper Nabatieh. The Group urged that Lebanon take steps to make sure Lebanese armed groups are using care in their choice of launching sites in order to avoid any possible breach of the understanding in the future.
Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah this evening said two meetings were already held between the Party's officials and the chief delegate in Lebanon of the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) Jean-Jacques Fresard.
The first of the two meetings was to explore the possibility of implementing the principle of the swap, and of accepting the ICRC as mediator. The second was set to discuss details.
In the same context, Fresard yesterday met Prime Minister Hariri, and conveyed to him a message from the Israeli government. He also received Hariri's reply and said he would convey back to Israel. Informed sources in Beirut said the Israeli message reiterated that Lebanon's is responsible for the chopped off pieces of the Israeli soldiers
A Hizbullah official earlier said the Party would have a say on the side that would mediate the swap. The Party revealed that both Germany and the ICRC called on Hizbullah and said they are prepared to handle the negotiations.
Hizbullah said the intermediary should obtain a clear offer from Israel specifying its readiness to negotiate exchanging detainees and captives in Israeli jails with the shreds of its soldiers.
During his meeting with Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Frersard reportedly raised a question on whether the Party is ready to accept the ICRC as the sole mediator. Responding, Nasrallah was said to have insisted the ICRC shoud be the only go-between, press reports today said.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhac Mordakhai opposed an Israeli unconditional withdrawal from south Lebanon and western Biqaa. He said withdrawing from Lebanon without obtaining prior Security guarantees would be "an irresponsible step". He also said. "those making such suggestions do not read the lessons of the past, and forget that our citizens in north Israel have been threatened by operations originating from Lebanon, until the security zone was set up".
He however admitted that the price paid by the Israeli army is high, and said there is no other alternative prior to signing a peace agreement with Lebanon over Israel's withdrawal to international borders. The Leader of the Israeli labor Party was said to have supported the views expressed by Mordakhai. The two aired their views at an extra session of the Israeli knesset.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was absent from the meeting, but he later said his desire to withdraw from Lebanon is not less than that expressed by the others. But that should take place in circumstances "guaranteeing that we would not be obliged to re-enter Lebanon at a higher cost". He said the calls to pull out from Lebanon will not put pressure on Hizbullah and those behind it, but would rather escalate attacks against the Israeli army and the northern borders. Four other ministers including Ariel Sharon expressed their support to withdrawing from the security zone.
- President Elias Hrawi yesterday said in Brazil that "Lebanon is surely a free, independent and democratic state, and no one should think that those hosted for humanitarian reasons would be naturalized".
-Six donor countries yesterday pledged to provide $22.2m to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to cover this year's $20m budget deficit. Lebanon's Ambassador to Jordan William Habib said following a meeting of donor and host countries in Amman that Japan has pledged $12.7m and the US %7.5m. Other countries including the European Union are expected to announce their donations today.
-Scientists from the British University of Leeds found new evidence that Beirut faces a major threat from earthquakes. They said the evidence should persuade the Lebanese government to lay down more strict construction rules.
-Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz in Brazil yesterday said he does not see any justification for Mrs. Albright not to visit Lebanon. He said, "until this hour, we received no information on the subject. What I can say is that I will not meet her outside Lebanon. And this is definite because I consider that, in line with the US policy which has always advocated Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, Mrs. Albright ought to visit Lebanon.
-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to visit Mexico in January next year. This would be the first visit by a Lebanese prime minister to a country hosting around half a million Lebanese.
-Australia's New South Wales Premier Bob Carr heading a 33-member delegation today met Prime Minister Hariri, Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli and Economy and Trade Minister Yassine Jaber.
-MP Pierre Daccache after a visit to Patriarch Sfeir said settling Palestinians in Lebanon would be a prelude to partition.
-Patriarch Sfeir today said if Lebanese Christians are to vanish, the entire Christian community in the region would also vanish.
-Widow of late President Beshir Gemayel and her two children called sympathizers to attend a sermon on Sunday on the occasion of 15th commemoration of the late president.
-Organized by the Aqua Marina 2 club, the Najah club swimmers won yesterday the first three positions in the fourth 2,700 m "through the Ocean" race. George Bekhazi, Wael Ghaoui and Samir Madbouli consecutively won the top three positions. In the women's 2000-meter race, Jazira club swimmers also won the first three positions. The winners consecutively were Roula Haress, Farah Nsouli and Maha Renno
-Lebanese handball Youth semi finals yesterday ended with Mont La Salle and Sadaqa teams fighting out the Youth finals. The date for the finals has yet to be decided. In the Men's category, Holiday Beach overcame Shabab Mar Elias, and Mont La Salle overcame Shabab Saida. A third game will be played today between Sadaqa and Holiday Beach.
-The weight lifting and body building team for the fifth Middle East Championship on September 11 and 12 in Amman, was announced by the Lebanese Federation for Weight Lifting and Body Building. Headed by Adel Chuman, the five athletes chosen to compete in 4 different weights are George Majadalani, Pascal Hejoud, Ismail Ibrahim, Ahmad Haidar and Yussef Zein.
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