Israel publicly accepted for the first time yesterday UN resolution 425 which calls for its withdrawal from South Lebanon, but insisted any pullout must be accompanied by security guarantees. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting yesterday that statements by Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai to a Lebanese newspaper on Friday recognizing the validity of UN Security Council Resolution 425 represented an Israeli government policy which has not changed.
Netanyahu added Israel is ready to accept the resolution provided that it is possible to reach an agreement with Lebanon which will ensure the security procedures required by Israel. The Israeli premier stressed a unilateral withdrawal was out of question.
In his interview with the Lebanese weekly Al-Watan Al- Arabi, Mordechai said for the Israeli Defense Force to get out of Lebanon, peace and security have to be restored by preventing attacks against Israel from Lebanese territory, creating normalized, good relations on both sides of the border, and cooperation between the Israeli Defense Force and the Lebanese Army.
Meanwhile, Yossi Beilin, a member of the opposition Labor party who is campaigning for an unconditional withdrawal, described Mordechai's comments as an important step, but criticized him for linking a pullout to security. The Security Council resolution, adopted in March 1978 after Israel's invasion of Lebanon, calls on Israel to immediately cease military action against the integral territory of Lebanon and to withdraw its forces without delay from all Lebanese territory.
A Lebanese civilian was seriously wounded today in an Israeli bombardment of an area just outside the zone Israel occupies in South Lebanon. Lebanese police reported that Mohammed Selim Fayyad, 50, was hit in the stomach by shrapnel when Israel attacked the area of Majdel Zoun, north of the Western ector of the zone. Fayyad was the first civilian victim in South Lebanon this year. Last year, about 40 civilians died and another 128 were injured in the South. In another development today, Hizbullah carried out an operation against an Israeli position at Bayyada, west of Majdel Zoun. A Hizbullah statement said the group attacked the Israeli position with rockets and automatic weapons and demolished its fortifications.
Meanwhile, the five-nation cease-fire monitoring group is expected to meet next Monday to look into a number of Lebanese complaints. One Lebanese complaint was filed after Israeli shells destroyed three houses in Majdel Zoun on December, 25.
A Lebanese civilian bulldozer today started removing stones and rocks that impede movement on the road linking the southern sector of the village of Memis to an Israeli-made border in Wadi Memis. The border also links the Israeli-occupied part of Hassbayyah to its freed part. This morning's move can be considered as a first step towards opening the border crossing which links the village of Memis to Hassbayyah. The Lebanese army said 20 university students coming from the occupied zone will be allowed to cross the border daily. Only students whose names are listed on the Lebanese army checkpoint found in the Southern part of Memis can cross the border in the present time.
An American delegation of congressmen and businessmen today came to Lebanon on an official visit. The delegation held talks with President Elias Al-Hrawi at the presidential palace in Baabda this morning. The delegation expressed interest in knowing more about the situation in Lebanon. Hrawi informed the delegation on his doubts concerning the truth behind Israel's acceptance of UN resolution 425. The president also doubted Israel was willing to achieve any kind of progress with regard to peace in the region. Different members of the delegation described their visit to Lebanon as historic adding it aimed at encouraging American businessmen to visit Lebanon, invest in the country, and be active participants in its reconstruction drive. Some of them said their visit was the first since the recent lifting of the US travel ban on the country. The delegates stressed the right of Lebanon to peace, security, and sovereignty on all Lebanese territories. The American delegation comprises four congressmen and 14 businessmen. Hrawi is also expected to hold talks with them tomorrow on the Lebanese stance concerning the Israeli occupation and the peace process in general.
The American delegation met later today House Speaker Nabih Berri in parliament. After talks with Berri, Us delegates stressed the interest of the American Congress in the situation in Lebanon and the region adding the congress has never viewed the Mideast as a "forgotten world". The delegation is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri at the government palace tomorrow. Later, the US delegates are scheduled to hold talks at the foreign ministry and the ministries of Health, Finance, Economy and Tourism. They will conclude their official visit to Lebanon by convening with Lebanon's top religious figures.
Prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri today met twice with Information Minister Bassem Al-Sabaa to discuss current media issues. Sabaa is expected to brief next cabinet's session on the issue of censorship on live political interviews broadcast nationally and internationally. The premier also held similar discussions with a number of deputies including Misbah Al-Ahdab, Elias Al-Khazen Mansour Ghanem AL-Boun, Wajih Al-Baarini, Habib Hakim, Mahmoud Awwad and Khaled Daher. After talks with Hariri, deputy Anwar Al-Khalil said he discussed with the premier developments in Hassbayya and specifically the siege on Shibaa. Deputy Khaled Daher, meanwhile, discussed with the premier the latest regarding municipal and mayoral elections and the 1998-state budget. Hariri also held discussions with ministers Asaad Hardan, Omar Miskawi and Eli Hobeika.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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