Lebanese Government Opposes Draft U.N. Proposal

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The United States and France are facing strong opposition from Lebanon and Arab states over a proposed cease-fire resolution at the United Nations. Their fundamental objection: Lebanon's government wants Israeli troops out of Lebanon, and the resolution doesn't require that to happen right away. Arab foreign ministers are in Beirut to discuss the conflict.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The United States and France are facing strong opposition from Lebanon and Arab states over a ceasefire resolution proposed at the United Nations. The basic objection: Lebanon's government wants Israeli troops out of Lebanon.

Arab foreign ministers arrived in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to back the Lebanese government. NPR's Deborah Amos is in the capital of Syria, Damascus, where she has been covering Arab reaction in the region. And Deborah, what can the Arab League achieve?

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

Well, Renee, one achievement has been a unified position for the first time in weeks. Arab governments have been divided on this war. Some withheld support for Hezbollah. But they stand together in viewing this United Nations resolution as a disaster.

They say the resolution is one-sided. They believe it favors Israel. Their priority is to get the fighting to end because of the dire consequences for Lebanon and also because of the boiling anger on the Arab street.

Now, the Syrian foreign minister came a day early, to Lebanon. It was his first trip to the country in more than a year, since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, and he said the U.N. resolution was dead without a total Israeli withdrawal. The Lebanese government and the Arab foreign ministers agree, and it's a sign of the times that it is Syria, a key backer of Hezbollah, that was the spokesman for the Arab position.

MONTAGNE: Well, does that mean that the Arab governments are shifting their support towards Hezbollah?

AMOS: The point is, Renee, is that they're supporting the Lebanese government, and they reflect what they see as the reality on the ground. One leading Arab newspaper summed it up this way, and I'll quote: The Franco-U.S. declaration puts the ball in the camp of the Lebanese government, which would have trouble convincing Hezbollah that it must lose to diplomacy, what it has not lost in the fighting.

So you might ask, what exactly has Hezbollah won, with Lebanon destroyed? But they have won the psychological battle, standing up to the Israeli army longer than any Arab army. Hezbollah does have grievances against Israel that are shared by all Lebanese. Those grievances are not reflected in the U.N. resolution.

Diplomats here in Damascus say Hezbollah (Unintelligible) that military arsenal is still largely intact. So that explains the fierce diplomacy, not just in Lebanon, but here in Damascus. The U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, called Syria's president last night. Qatar's foreign minister met with the Syrian president on his way into Lebanon. Qatar is the only Arab government on the U.N. Security Council and they will have a vote on this resolution.

MONTAGNE: Do the Arab ministers and the Lebanese government imagine that there is room for some change in the language at the United Nations? Is there give?

AMOS: Most are pretty gloomy, but there's some room. The French foreign minister said getting Arab support is crucial. And, as you know, France is expected to send troops into a peacekeeping force. But the U.S. secretary of state gave no signs of change. Condoleezza Rice, said yesterday, after the vote we'll see who's for peace and who's not.

But we could have history repeat itself here. Back in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon then, the war ended with a signed peace deal, but it fell apart almost immediately when the Lebanese president was assassinated. Israeli troops occupied south Lebanon for another 18 years.

This time Israel says it doesn't want to stay. But Israeli troops will be seen as a provocation. Hezbollah has already made that clear. And it is Hezbollah that will ultimately decide on Lebanon's answer to a ceasefire.

MONTAGNE: Deb, thank you very much.

AMOS: Thanks Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Deborah Amos, in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

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