By Evelyn Leopold

U.N. Security Council envoys attempt on Sunday to put finishing touches on a draft resolution from France and the United States calling for a halt to fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas and setting terms for a settlement to the conflict.

The text calls for a "full cessation of hostilities," asks U.N. peacekeepers to monitor it and stipulates principles necessary for a permanent political settlement.

A vote has not been set yet but is expected on Monday or Tuesday. The resolution is the result of negotiations by the United States, an ally of Israel, and France, tipped as the possible leader of an anticipated international force for south Lebanon.

The resolution is the first of two to deal with the violence that has killed more than 700 Lebanese and 78 Israelis. The second measure, expected in about two weeks, would cover plans for a permanent peace agreement and authorize the international force.

Despite negative reactions from Lebanon and Hizbollah, most council members hope the resolution will at least subdue the fighting and allow access for relief workers.

"I think everybody agrees that the resolution be adopted as soon as possible — by Monday, if possible," Japan’s U.N. ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, told reporters.

"It is very difficult to expect either the Lebanese government or the Israeli government to fully like it," Oshima said. "Any resolution that can enjoy the full support of the council will be something that will aim at the middle ground and not to please one party to the exclusion of the other."

The challenges ahead were visible the moment the draft was distributed on Saturday by France’s U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, who had negotiated throughout the week with U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. Lebanon and Israeli officials were consulted regularly.

The draft resolution calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and says Hizbollah must stop all attacks while Israel must halt only "offensive military operations." But there are no mechanisms to enforce it.


Supported by Qatar, the only Arab member of the council, Lebanon objected and wanted the text to include a seven-point plan adopted last month by the Beirut cabinet.

"Unfortunately, it lacked, for instance, a call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces which are now in Lebanon. That is a recipe for more confrontation," Nouhad Mahmoud, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry official, told reporters.

Israel has refused to withdraw its 10,000 troops until an international force enters south Lebanon and France and others do not want to send in soldiers while fighting rages.

The resolution asks Israel and Lebanon to approve elements for a peace settlement, which would include a buffer zone in south Lebanon free of any military force except U.N.-mandated troops and the Lebanese Army.

It envisages a settling of the borders between Lebanon and Syria, including in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, as well as an arms embargo on weapons shipped to Lebanon. It would insist that the Lebanese military extend its authority to the entire country, particularly areas controlled by Hizbollah.

But the resolution leaves the fate of prisoners for a later day. Only the draft’s preamble "emphasizes" the need to return two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hizbollah on July 12 ignited the war. It also "encourages" efforts to settle the issue of the Lebanese prisoners in Israel.

"The big test is not the Lebanese government, it’s really Hizbollah," said Ousama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut.

"Hizbollah sees that its fortunes on the battlefield are on its side, so it will drag its feet and up the ante as much as possible to get a resolution that is acceptable on its own terms."

© 2006 Reuters