Annan announces fighting in Lebanon to end Monday (AFP)
Sun Aug 13th 2006 at 1:39 am ETUNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that the governments of Israel and Lebanon had agreed to halt fighting in the month-long war on Monday, even as fighting raged on the ground.
The announcement came shortly after US President George W. Bush held telephone talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and had received a call from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the first time since the opening days of the war.
Annan's announcement came as Israel pushed some 30,000 troops into the south of Lebanon where the Hezbollah is rooted -- some of them reaching the Litani River that marks the unofficial northern border of the Shiite militia.
Fierce clashes between Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops continued through the night southeast of the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre in the region near the border with Israel, Lebanese police said early Sunday.
But Israeli officials said they were prepared to agree to the cessation of hostilities called for in Friday's UN Security Council resolution at a cabinet meeting Sunday.
Annan said an end to the fighting had been set for August 14 at 0500 GMT after speaking to Siniora and Olmert.
" I am very happy to announce that the two leaders have agreed that the cessation of hostilities and the end of the fighting will enter into force on 14 August, at 0500 GMT," Annan said in a statement.
"Preferably, the fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the Council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through," Annan said.
"So I urged the parties to stop immediately and I would want to assure them the United Nations forces on the ground, UNIFIL, will work with them to implement the agreement and will monitor compliance."
His announcement came hours after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Israeli radio that she expected the month-long war to end in "a day or so."
Israel sought to control a large swath of southern Lebanon ahead of a key cabinet meeting expected to endorse a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the offensive.
The Israeli general in charge of the northern command said he hoped the estimated 30,000 troops involved in the expanded offensive launched overnight Friday will have secured control of most of south Lebanon by Monday.
"I think we will be in a much better situation (on Monday) than we are today," General Udi Adam said. "Assuming that the ceasefire will take effect, we will stop the moment we are told. If it doesn't, we could continue."
The ground push came as the Lebanese government approved the UN Security Council resolution.
However it also expressed reservations that it did not go far enough in condemning large-scale Israeli destruction in Lebanon and that it failed to address the isssue of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms.
On the fighting front, Israeli forces took a key hilltop village overlooking the strategic Litani River and engaged in fierce fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas.
The Israeli army confirmed early Sunday that 11 of its soldiers had been killed the previous day in a series of clashes with the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon.
The Israeli military and Lebanese security officials also confirmed that Hezbollah had shot down an army helicopter over the border village of Yater.
"The fighters of the Islamic resistance (armed wing of Hezbollah) fired rockets at a helicopter carrying troops that was trying to land," a Hezbollah spokesman said, adding that five soldiers had died in the crash.
At least eight Lebanese civilians were killed in air attacks that destroyed a power station in the south and hit roads leading to Syria in the north, officials said.
Israeli air raids in the eastern Lebanese region of Baalbeck also killed a child and caused damage to the ancient Roman temple of Bacchus, the town mayor said.
Commentators said that by boosting its ground offensive and pushing toward the Litani River, Israel was trying to control a wide stretch of southern Lebanon before handing over the area to Lebanese soldiers and peacekeepers.
The Litani has served as a tactical boundary for Israel's operations in Lebanon since it first invaded its northern neighbor in 1978, leading to a long and bloody occupation that ended only six years ago.
The United Nations resolution, drafted by the United States and France, calls for all Israeli troops to withdraw from southern Lebanon after an end to the fighting -- the timing of which has yet to be agreed by Lebanon and Israel.
The agreement calls for "a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations".
It also calls for the release of two Israeli soldiers whose abduction by Hezbollah triggered the war on July 12 and for a solution to the issue of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.
Annan scolded world powers for the time it took to reach a resolution.
"All members of this council must be aware that this inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world's faith in its authority and integrity," he said.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in Lebanon and more than 900,000 displaced. Bombing has laid waste to the international airport, roads, bridges and power stations and effectively severed the country from the outside world.
Israel has lost 93 soldiers and 38 civilians in combat and as a result of rocket attacks by Hezbollah. And an estimated 300,000-500,000 people in northern Israel have left their homes because of the fighting.
The resolution authorizes an increase in the current UN Interim Force in Lebanon's strength to a maximum of 15,000 troops from about 1,190 now. They will be matched by the 15,000 troops Lebanon plans to send to the south.