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Lebanon warns militants on truce

Vows tough action against violators

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's defense minister, Elias Murr, said yesterday he is certain Hezbollah will not break the cease-fire but warned all militant groups of harsh measures and a traitor's fate if they incite Israeli retaliation by firing rockets into the Jewish state.

Murr's strong remarks indicated concern that Syrian-backed Palestinian militants might try to restart the fighting by drawing retaliation from Israel.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, meanwhile, toured the devastated Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut and decried the destruction by Israeli bombs as a ``crime against humanity." Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi'ite and Hezbollah backer, stood at the Sunni prime minister's side and said they spoke with one voice.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said he would name a panel to investigate the performance by the military during the war, which has been criticized by many Israelis as weak and indecisive.

A day after Israeli commandos staged a predawn raid deep into Lebanon, prompting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to declare the Israelis in violation of the Security Council cease-fire resolution, no new clashes were reported.

Residents in the mountains east of Beirut, however, described continued overflights by Israeli warplanes on the truce's seventh day.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Saturday's raid was aimed at disrupting arms shipments to Hezbollah, and that such operations may continue until international peacekeepers arrive to enforce an arms embargo.

``In the situation where there was a flagrant violation of the embargo, Israel had the right to act," Regev said. ``Had there not been a violation, Israel would not have to respond."

Israel's housing and construction minister, Meir Sheetrit, said Israel had no choice regarding the raid.

``The Lebanese are yet to carry out the resolution and are saying that Hezbollah will not be disarmed and that it can hide its weapons," Sheetrit said. ``What are we supposed to do? Sit idly and wait for Hezbollah to rearm?"

A Bush administration official said the Israeli raid underscored the importance of quickly deploying an expanded UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

``We've seen the press reports and noted the Israeli statement saying that the operation was a reaction to arms smuggling," White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said, adding that preventing the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah by Syria and Iran is a key provision of the cease-fire plan.

The Lebanese defense minister insisted that Hezbollah would hold its fire.

``We consider that when [Hezbollah] is committed not to fire rockets, then any rocket that is fired from the Lebanese territory would be considered collaboration with Israel to provide a pretext [for Israel] to strike," Murr said.

He said that the Lebanese Army would respond to any attack on Israel, and that anyone arrested for violating the truce would be considered by the military tribunal ``an agent of the Israeli enemy."

Murr did not repeat his Saturday threat to stop the deployment of Lebanon's army in the south to protest Israel's helicopter-borne commando raid near the town of Boudai, on the west side of the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Such a halt would be a blow to the UN cease-fire plan, which calls for the army and a strong UN peacekeeping force to police the truce and separate Israeli troops and Hezbollah's guerrillas.

Murr apparently was satisfied by a declaration from Annan warning Israel against a repeat of the raid.

Townspeople in Boudai said 300 residents grabbed guns after the Israeli raid began at 3 a.m. and fought at the side of 15 Hezbollah guerrillas for 90 minutes before the commandos retreated and were flown back to Israel. Residents said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side. One Israeli officer was killed and two soldiers were wounded.

Under the UN cease-fire, which took effect last Monday, Lebanon has started deploying 15,000 soldiers in its southern region, putting a government force there for the first time in four decades.

It is to be joined by an equal number of international peacekeepers, but wrangling among countries expected to send troops has delayed the mission, and UN officials are pleading for nations to participate to bolster the fragile truce.

France, which commands the existing UN force in Lebanon, yesterday called for a meeting of European Union countries this week to determine the number of troops they are prepared to contribute to the mission.

``We are asking that Europe express its solidarity toward Lebanon as rapidly as possible," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

Saniora, the Lebanese prime minister, made his first visit yesterday to Hezbollah's south Beirut stronghold, where Israeli airstrikes had wrecked whole neighborhoods.

``What we see today is an image of the crimes Israel has committed," Saniora said. ``There is no other description other than a criminal act that shows Israel's hatred to destroy Lebanon and its unity. I hope the international media transmits this picture to every person in the world so that it shows this criminal act, this crime against humanity."

While he visited, Hezbollah's operatives were still handing out bundles of $100 bills to people who lost homes to Israeli bombs -- $12,000 for each claimant. The stipend is to pay a year's rent and refurnish homes.

Material from the Washington Post was included in this report.

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