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US, France OK cease-fire resolution

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States and France reached agreement on a draft resolution yesterday calling for "a full cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hezbollah and setting the terms for a possible negotiated settlement of the war and deployment of a UN-mandated international force in the region.

The diplomatic progress was reported as Israel and Hezbollah sharply intensified fighting with a blitz of airstrikes, dozens of rocket attacks, and brutal ground combat yesterday.

Israel mounted a commando raid in the port city of Tyre. Fighting across Lebanon killed at least eight Lebanese and an Israeli soldier, while a Hezbollah rocket volley killed three women in northern Israel.

In a sign of the challenges ahead, Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese government declared that they would reject the proposed UN resolution because it does not provide for immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon.

"As long as one Israeli soldier is still on Lebanese soil, there will be no cease-fire," Mohammed Freish, electricity and hydraulic power minister, said as he entered an emergency cabinet meeting in Beirut to discuss the resolution.

Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday Israel was "studying" the deal and would give its formal reaction later.

The resolution is expected to be the first of at least two to deal with the bloodshed that has claimed more than 450 Lebanese civilians and about 75 Israeli civilians and soldiers. A second resolution would deal with terms for a lasting end to hostilities.

"We are prepared to move as quickly as other members of the council want to move," US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters in New York yesterday morning.

"We are prepared to continue to work tomorrow to make progress."

President Bush has signed off on a draft resolution aimed at ending fighting in the Mideast and is "happy with the progress being made," his spokesman said yesterday in Crawford, Texas. But Bush knows there could be a long road before violence stops, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that he expected a cease-fire within days.

The statements from Freish and Foreign Minister Fawzi Saloukh indicated the Lebanese government would have trouble signing on to the resolution. Because of Hezbollah's firm stand, any decision to embrace the resolution could split the government and increase already tense relations among the country's Shi'ite Muslim, Sunni Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities.

Saloukh said the resolution was unacceptable because it provides for the elimination of foreign soldiers on Lebanese soil only in subsequent stages of diplomacy.

The first stage, he noted, calls on Hezbollah to halt its attacks and on Israel only to halt offensive military operations, without specifying withdrawal.

That would leave the Israeli army occupying several pockets of the hilly border terrain that have been gained in often bloody fighting over the last three weeks. Hezbollah, a militant Shi'ite Muslim movement, has made it clear in repeated declarations over the last few days that this would be unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the fighting showed no sign of abating. Israeli commandos battled Hezbollah guerrillas in a dramatic raid on an apartment building in the southern port city of Tyre, the latest Israeli operation deep inside Lebanese territory aimed at taking out Hezbollah strongpoints.

Seven Lebanese were killed in the raid, including a Lebanese Army soldier, according to hospital sources. Israeli officials said eight soldiers were wounded in the operation, which left trails of blood all around the apartment complex.

The Israeli military said it was targeting Hezbollah leaders believed responsible for firing rockets into the Israeli city of Hadera.

Early yesterday, around 3 a.m., electricity in the city went out and helicopters swept into the city from the sea, the sound of their whipping blades sweeping over the entire waterfront. The thud of machine gun fire echoed in the night, mingling with the shorter bursts from smaller weapons.

Neighbors said they didn't know who lived in the raided apartment.

The apartment was burned on the inside as if from a firebomb and was full of guns, ammunition, including several AK-47s, dozens of bullet clips, bandoliers, two rocket-propelled grenades, and some smaller rifle grenades.

A picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, stood upright next to a computer monitor. The entire house was ransacked and scattered with bullet casings from what appeared to be a fierce gunfight.

Eyewitnesses said the raid lasted anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours.

Ahmad Mussa, 27, a neighbor, said he was awakened by the sound of helicopters and went downstairs, where he saw uniformed soldiers, some of them bearded, around the apartment.

"I thought it was the Lebanese Army," he said. "Then a sniper raised his gun and fired a shot at the wall next to me, as a warning to get away."

He said he saw the commandos exit the apartment with a prisoner, but he then hid and didn't see where they took him.

Yesterday's Hezbollah barrage brought to 33 the number of Israeli civilians killed by rocket fire in 25 days of fighting. Forty-five Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles with Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon, including one yesterday. Some 300,000 Israelis have fled their homes.

An Associated Press count showed at least 567 Lebanese have been killed, including 489 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry, 28 Lebanese soldiers, and at least 50 Hezbollah guerrillas. The Lebanese government's Higher Relief Council said 907 Lebanese had been killed in the conflict.

Estimates of Lebanese homeless range from 800,000 to 1 million.

Thanassis Cambanis of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Tyre, Lebanon. Material from the Associated Press was also included.

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