The US and France reached agreement yesterday on a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending the fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, US Ambassador John Bolton said.
Bolton refused to comment on the text, but an official with knowledge of the document said the draft calls for a "full cessation of violence" between Israel and Hezbollah, but would allow Israel the right to launch strikes if Hezbollah attacks it.
"It does not say immediate cessation of violence," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the draft had not yet been made public.
That appeared to be a major victory for the US and Israel. France and many other nations had demanded an immediate halt to the fighting without conditions as a way to push the region back toward stability.
The full, 15-nation Security Council was expected to meet later in the day to discuss the resolution, and it was likely to be adopted in the next couple of days, Bolton said.
Bolton said the resolution would be the first of two. He said this one deals with the immediate issue of the fighting. The second would likely spell out a larger political framework for peace between Israel and Hezbollah.
"We're prepared to continue to work tomorrow in order to make progress on the adoption of the resolution but we have reached agreement and we're now ready to proceed," Bolton said. "We're prepared to move as quickly as other members of the council want to move."
Meanwhile, Israel yesterday launched its heaviest bombardment of southern Lebanon since its offensive began, carrying out 250 air raids and firing some 4,000 shells on the region, police said.
The barrage lasted for seven hours from dawn with the worst hit region the area around the village of Aitaroun which was hit by 2,000 shells.
Police said that 15 villages some 5km from the border were being systematically destroyed by the bombardments, which come after Israel vowed to create a security zone free of Hezbollah fighters in the area.
Fourteen people were wounded in the raids, with more casualties avoided because the villages had already largely emptied of residents in the face of persistent Israeli bombardment.
A senior Israeli naval commander said yesterday that three Hezbollah leaders were killed during a night-time commando raid in the Lebanese coastal city of Tyre.
"Guided by very precise intelligence, navy commandos entered an apartment on the second floor of a five-story building in the north of Tyre, where they killed at least three Hezbollah leaders," the official told news agencies on condition of anonymity.
"These three men were notably responsible for firing a missile against the city of Hadera" late on Friday, he said, without elaborating.
There was no immediate reaction to the claim from Hezbollah.
Friday evening's strike on the town of Hadera, 70km from the border, was Hezbollah's deepest hit into Israel of the conflict yet caused no casualties.
"There were point-blank exchanges of fire and grenades were thrown inside the apartment and two of our troops were seriously wounded," the official said.
"Our commandos were able to retreat and to hit with counterstrikes six to eight terrorists from neighboring buildings, killing some of them, and to return to Israel with aviation support," he said.
"We could have contented ourselves with liquidating these terrorists with a missile strike, but we launched this risky raid to spare innocent lives and to prove that we are capable of reaching terrorists wherever they are," he said.