Israel’s Cabinet met Sunday to approve a U.N. cease-fire plan despite widespread concerns among Israelis about reaching a truce with Hezbollah guerrillas who have not been subdued and have inflicted heavy losses on Israeli troops.
The session came as some 30,000 Israeli troops fought heavy battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in a last-minute push deeper into Lebanon, and a day after 24 soldiers were killed in the highest Israeli toll of the monthlong war.
Israeli warplanes pounded targets across Lebanon on Sunday, killing at least five people, while Hezbollah guerrillas fired rockets at northern Israel, killing one person and injuring at least seven.
The cease-fire was to go into effect at 8 a.m. Beirut time Monday (1 a.m. EDT). Some 15,000 Lebanese troops and an equal number of U.N. forces are to deploy in coming days in south Lebanon and create a buffer zone between the border with Israel and the Litani River.
The Lebanese government approved the deal Saturday, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah signaled grudging acceptance while warning that “the war has not ended.”
The potential for more clashes after a cease-fire is high. Israeli troops will remain in Lebanon until Lebanese troops deploy there, and Israel’s weekend push to the Litani River, some 18 miles from the border, meant scores of Hezbollah fighters were caught behind Israeli lines. Israel said it hoped Lebanese troops will start deploying quickly, within a week or two.
Israeli Trade Minister Isaac Herzog said the Cabinet would approve the cease-fire.
“We view the Security Council resolution favorably,” Herzog told The Associated Press before the meeting Sunday. “We plan to approve the resolution and of course enter into a cease-fire by tomorrow (Monday) morning.”
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told ministers he met with the families of two Israeli soldiers whose July 12 capture by Hezbollah provoked the war, and said he hoped they would be freed. The U.N. truce plan, however, is not linked to the soldiers’ release.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that while Israel has to learn lessons from the war, “in my view, we came out of this with the upper hand, both politically and military.”
The cease-fire’s likely approval comes despite widespread misgivings in Israel about its terms. The deal was seen at best as a draw with Hezbollah, and some felt Israel — unable to subdue a guerrillas force — had lost.
Military experts and commentators said neither the Lebanese army nor U.N. forces could be counted on to challenge Hezbollah or force Iran-supplied guerrillas to disarm.
The deal buys a period of calm, at best, and sets the region up for the next war with Hezbollah, critics said. The truce will be “a time-out until the next confrontation, and maybe not even this,” commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in Israel’s Yediot Ahronot daily.
The Cabinet session was overshadowed by rising Israeli casualties. Twenty-four soldiers were killed Saturday, and at least 73 wounded.
Hezbollah appeared to be fighting as fiercely as ever. The guerrillas shot down an Israeli helicopter for the first time in the war, killing five crew members. Other troops were killed by Hezbollah anti-tank missiles. The army said it killed more than 50 Hezbollah fighters.
The violence has claimed more than 900 lives: at least 763 in Lebanon — mostly civilians_ and 147 Israelis, including 109 soldiers. On Saturday, 19 Lebanese civilians were killed in Israeli air raids, one of which blasted a highway near the last open border crossing to Syria.
The big expansion of Israel troop strength, including the army’s biggest airlift of soldiers since the 1973 Mideast war, prompted Nasrallah to declare the fight far from finished. “The war has not ended. There have been continued strikes and continued casualties,” he said Saturday.
Lebanon’s Cabinet said Israel’s military push presented a “flagrant challenge” to the international community after the U.N. resolution was issued.
An Israeli missile destroyed a building in the southern Lebanese coastal city of Tyre on Sunday, killing a woman, her three children and the family’s housekeeper, security officials said.
In northern Israel, a Hezbollah rocket hit a house in the town of Shlomi killing, kiling one person and wounding two others. Five other people were hurt in rocket barrages throughout northern Israel, rescue services said.
President Bush had an 8-minute phone call Saturday with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to discuss the truce. The White House said it is determined to vanquish the hold of Hezbollah — and that of its Syrian and Iranian benefactors — on the south.
“These steps are designed to stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state, and put an end to Iran and Syria’s efforts to hold the Lebanese people hostage to their own extremist agenda,” Bush said.
The anti-Syrian Saniora, whose government was extremely weak when the fighting began, appears to have emerged from the crisis considerably strengthened.
He prevailed in his insistence that policing of the cease-fire be done by Lebanese soldiers alongside an expanded U.N. force rather than by an ad hoc assembly of international troops, possibly from NATO.
French President Jacques Chirac has said his nation was ready to contribute troops to the U.N. force. Other nations, including Italy and New Zealand, also have offered soldiers.
AP writers Lauren Frayer and Samir Ghattas contributed to this report from Beirut.