Hezbollah agrees to Lebanese peace plan, officials say
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Hezbollah representatives and Lebanese cabinet ministers have reached an agreement in general -- but with some major reservations -- on a proposal to end the crisis in the Middle East, high-ranking Lebanese government officials say.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- expected to arrive in the region later Saturday -- said it initially appeared the Lebanese plan included "some very good elements."
Israel on Saturday rejected a request by the U.N. for a three-day cease-fire in Lebanon to deliver humanitarian supplies and allow civilians to leave the war zone, The Associated Press reported.
Avi Pazner, a government spokesman, said Israel already had opened safe corridors across Lebanon for such shipments and that Hezbollah guerrillas were blocking them to create a humanitarian crisis.
The Lebanese cease-fire plan, reached at a meeting on Friday night, calls for an immediate cease-fire, the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and the return of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah.
The plan also calls for the return of displaced Lebanese to their homes, negotiations between Israel and Lebanon concerning the disputed Sheeba farms now under Israeli control, the disclosure of maps showing Israeli minefields near the Lebanese border, the deployment and strengthening of the Lebanese army and the expansion of the U.N. force in the south.
While Hezbollah agreed to a cease-fire with Israel and an increased international presence in southern Lebanon, the group objected to "a robust force" of international peacekeepers in the region, the sources said.
Hezbollah did not specifically agree to disarm, as Israel has demanded, the sources said. The plan does, however, call for the Lebanese military to take control of southern Lebanon, along with the U.N. force, which implies that the Hezbollah militia would not operate there.
It also calls for the implementation of the Taef accords -- which ended the Lebanese civil war in 1990 -- which includes the disarming of all militias, the sources said.
Hezbollah representatives told the cabinet it had reservations about the nature of an expanded international presence in the south, the source said.
Hezbollah wants only an expansion of the current UNIFIL mission with the same mandate.
They don't want a "robust force," the source said.
"The force must be more robust, otherwise there's no sense in it," one of the high-ranking Lebanese officials told CNN.
The question of what to do about the two Israeli soldiers being held by Hezbollah was not discussed at the cabinet meeting, the sources said.
The proposal, developed by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, is the official position of the Lebanese government and is intended to be presented to Rice on her arrival in the region.
Rice told reporters on her plane early Saturday that she has only read news reports about the proposal but it appeared to have "some very good elements." She called it a "positive step."
Rice will meet Saturday night with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. Rice told reporters she expected the weekend talks to be intense and emotional as both sides are "under extreme pressure in a difficult set of circumstances."
It has not been announced when she might travel to Beirut to meet with the Lebanese prime minister.
Rice said she was not carrying a comprehensive plan to the region. "I don't expect to present somebody with a 'here are the five points you must accept,'" she said. "This has got to be some give and take. This is difficult."
Nine bodies found
Meanwhile, the bodies of nine Lebanese civilians, including three children and their parents, were found along Maarub-Dardghia road near Tyre Friday afternoon, said Civil Defense Officer Salam Daher.
The family of five died after their car was hit by a missile and the other four died from shrapnel, he said.
The bodies, which were decomposing, were found during efforts to recover the dead and evacuate towns in southern Lebanon, he said.
Daher said the town of Deir Qanoun was one they were trying to evacuate but could not due to heavy shelling.
Air assault continues
The Israeli Air Force carried out 60 airstrikes overnight on Hezbollah locations and structures as assaults between the two sides entered their 18th day Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Targets struck by the IDF were located chiefly in southern Lebanon and included 37 Hezbollah warehouses and locations, roads, bridges and cars, the IDF said.
Lebanese Internal Security Forces said Saturday that 421 people have been killed and 1,661 have been wounded in Lebanon since the attacks began.
Israeli officials said Friday that 51 Israelis -- 33 soldiers and 19 civilians -- have died and 1,233 Israelis -- 110 soldiers and 1,123 civilians -- have been wounded in the fighting began between Hezbollah forces and Israel.
Hezbollah has not officially released any casualty figures, but Israeli military sources estimated Friday about 200 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since July 12.
The Israeli offensive in Lebanon began after the Iranian-backed Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid, killing eight soldiers and capturing two others.
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