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Arab nations demand UN shift to end Lebanon war

LEBANON: Arab countries will press the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday for changes to a draft resolution to end the war between Israel and Hizbollah, as the Jewish state vows to expand its offensive in Lebanon if diplomacy fails.

On the 28th day of the conflict, rescue workers dug with their hands and a bulldozer through rubble of a building in southern Beirut in the hope of finding survivors from an Israeli air strike which they said killed at least 18 people.

Israeli air raids killed more than 50 people on Monday, making it one of deadliest days for Lebanon in the war. Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said 925 people, mostly civilians, had been killed before Monday's casualties.

Ninety-seven Israelis have been killed since Hizbollah guerrillas triggered the war on July 12 by capturing two Israeli soldiers. Hizbollah, which has strongholds in southern Lebanon, has fired rockets into the Jewish state, killing civilians.

Despite global alarm at the rising civilian casualties, days of intensive diplomatic efforts at the U.N. Security Council to bring about a ceasefire and lasting peace have so far failed.

France and the United States have drafted a resolution but are considering changes because of Arab criticism. Choking back tears over the civilian casualties, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded "a quick and decisive" ceasefire.

With Arab League representatives due to meet the U.N. Security Council president, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters: "We will listen to those views very carefully."

Washington, which blames Hizbollah and its main allies Iran and Syria for the conflict, said it was impossible to please everyone and that U.S. and French officials had been in touch with Lebanese and Israeli officials when they drafted the text.

Israeli media and one senior government official have said the Jewish state viewed the draft resolution favourably, partly because it would allow Israeli soldiers to remain in southern Lebanon until an international force arrived to take over.

Diplomats said the Security Council was unlikely to vote on the draft resolution until Wednesday. The draft calls for a "full cessation of hostilities" and says Hizbollah must stop all attacks while Israel must halt "offensive military operations".

Lebanon's government said it would send 15,000 Lebanese troops to the south, a move long demanded by the international community. But it demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal before it would embark on such a deployment.

U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch he wanted a U.N. resolution as quickly as possible to end hostilities but resisted Lebanon's demand. He said it could create a vacuum and allow Hizbollah guerrillas to rearm. Israel has said it would not pull out its troops in the south until a strong international force was deployed.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said his country's ground offensive in Lebanon would be expanded to take control of all of Hizbollah's Katyusha rocket launching sites if there was no diplomatic solution "within the coming days".

Political sources said Peretz had called at a government meeting for a further advance to the Litani River, 20 km (13 miles) inside Lebanon and well beyond the 6-7 km deep zone where Israeli forces have carved out a "security zone". Beirut, Tuesday, Reuters

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