The UN expects Israel's ground offensive to wind down within 48 hours and an expanded international force to begin deploying in southern Lebanon in a week to 10 days, the UN's envoy said yesterday.
"We are not starting from zero," Alvaro de Soto, the UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said of preparations for an international force.
"We have building blocks in place as part of stand-by arrangements with a number of countries with earmarked contingents," he said.
The resolution approved by the UN Security Council on Friday calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and authorizes up to 15,000 UN troops to move in to enforce a ceasefire.
The resolution says Hezbollah must halt all attacks and Israel must stop "all offensive military operations."
De Soto said Israel's offensive was in its "last throes" and should wrap up in one to two days. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has backed the UN resolution, plans to put it to a vote of his Cabinet today, officials said.
A formal, verifiable ceasefire could be reached "within a week or so," allowing the deployment of Lebanese troops along with an expanded UN force, de Soto said.
De Soto and other Western diplomats said UN troops were likely to start moving into southern Lebanon in about 10 days, barring another escalation in fighting.
Israel expects a ceasefire to take effect tomorrow, the Ynet news Web site reported, quoting sources in Olmert's office.
Israeli officials say the UN resolution will allow the army to press ahead with "defensive" operations, including attacks on Hezbollah rocket launchers and arms convoys.
De Soto said Israel will have a right to continue to defend itself once offensive operations end. But he said Israel must be mindful that its actions comply with the resolution.
"The Security Council will take very seriously any action in defiance of it," de Soto said. "We fully expect full compliance."
De Soto said the UN has already lined up several governments to send troops to join the expanded UN force.
Lebanon's prime minister yesterday said the plan to end fighting between Israel and Hezbollah served the country's interests.
Fuad Saniora signaled that his Cabinet would approve the plan when it met late yesterday.
"This resolution shows that the whole world stood by Lebanon," he told reporters.
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Israel expands ground offensive