07/18/2006, 00.00
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Israel not keen on peacekeeping force deployment

Israeli PM Olmert says attack will continue till soldiers are free and rockets stop landing in Israel. Deputy Chief of the General Staff says it might take a few weeks.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Unofficially, Israel remains unconvinced that deploying UN peacekeepers along its border with Lebanon is a good idea. Israeli PM Olmert told UN envoys trying to broker a ceasefire that the attack in Lebanon won't stop until Hezbollah frees the Israeli soldiers it is holding and the security of Israeli citizens is not guaranteed, i.e. when rockets stop falling. For his part, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Deputy Chief of the General Staff Moshe Kaplinsky said that it might take some weeks to reach that point.

On the ground though the number of the dead keeps rising, 50 just today, the latest killed on the Beirut-Damascus highway, the main escape route for those fleeing Lebanon. Several options are being vetted on the diplomatic front.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the Lebanese army has 70,000 troops that can be used to safeguard the border, but that it does not want to fight. He said that Hezbollah could care less about the Lebanese government and the United Nations, and so "experience has shown that Israel cannot rely on United Nations peacekeeping troops to keep Israel safe from Hezbollah terrorists."

 "Is an international force prepared to use weapons to stop 1,500 rockets in five days," Peres asked.

The Jerusalem Post writes that according to the IDF, 40 to 50 per cent of Hezbollah's military capability has been degraded, and that it is looking into the possibility of deploying anti-missile batteries in heavily-hit Haifa and other northern Israeli towns to stop rockets launched from Lebanon 

Meanwhile Israel might consider a prisoner swap with Lebanon to secure the release of the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah, but only after its military operation is complete, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former Shin Bet director, said.

"If one of the ways to bring home the soldiers will be negotiations on the possibility of releasing Lebanese prisoners I think the day will come when we will also have to consider this," Dichter told Army Radio.

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