A draft resolution circulating among U.N. Security Council members would call for an immediate halt to fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and seek a wide new buffer zone in south Lebanon monitored by international forces and the Lebanese army.

The proposal, which aims to promote lasting peace between Lebanon and Israel, was sent quietly by France to the other 14 members of the council ahead of a possible meeting of foreign ministers in New York to discuss Lebanon sometime next week. A copy of the draft was obtained Saturday by The Associated Press.

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The proposal stresses the need "to create the conditions for a permanent cease-fire and a lasting solution to the current crisis between Israel and Lebanon." It emphasizes the need to end the escalating violence, but also "to address urgently the root causes that have given rise to the current crisis."

The conditions for a permanent cease-fire include a buffer zone stretching from the Blue Line -- the U.N.-demarcated boundary that Israel withdrew behind in 2000 -- to the Litani River, which was the northern border of Israel's occupation of Lebanon in 1982.

The buffer zone would be "free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of U.N.-mandated international forces," the draft says.

The document, which is likely to see significant changes before adoption, is the answer to the call made Friday by U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for a U.N. resolution that would lay the groundwork for peace in Lebanon and deploy an international force there.

It starts by calling for an immediate halt to fighting that began almost three weeks ago and has killed more than 500 people.

French diplomats refused to discuss the proposal, saying it had not been made public yet. Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., said the Americans had only just received the draft and were still studying it.

Still, the United States has so far refused to call for an immediate halt to the hostilities, and may oppose any demands for that.

In the three weeks since fighting began, the Security Council's only response has been a weak statement expressing shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post on the Lebanon border Tuesday that killed four unarmed military observers on Tuesday.

According to the resolution, other conditions for peace include the release of the two Israeli soldiers whose abduction by Hezbollah sparked Israel's devastating military campaign; and the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, adopted in 2004, which demanded Hezbollah be disarmed and Lebanon extend its control to its southern border with Israel, where Hezbollah has de-facto control.

Lebanon must also firm up its border "especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Chebaa farms area."

Israel seized the Chebaa Farms area in the 1967 war and still occupies it. Lebanon claims the area but the United Nations determined that it is Syrian, and Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate. Hezbollah points to the Chebaa Farms to claim that Israeli forces still occupy Lebanon.

Once hostilities are stopped, the resolution would call on Lebanon to deploy troops to the south along the Blue Line with Israel, and charge U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to work with key regional and international actors to secure agreement from Lebanon and Israel for a lasting political solution.

The current U.N. force in Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL, would monitor implementation of the resolution for now. But those troops would be replaced by a more powerful international force to keep the peace.

According to the draft, the new peacekeeping force would be granted authority under the powerful Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which gives U.N.-backed troops a broader mandate to respond to attacks. The new force would "support the Lebanese armed forces in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and of the terms of a lasting solution as agreed by the parties."

Annan has called for a meeting Monday of countries that could contribute troops to an international force, a key step in the peace plan.

Israel has said so far that it would not allow U.N. troops. Instead, it would likely seek NATO forces, possibly operating under such a U.N. mandate.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp in an interview on Saturday that the killing of the observes may discourage countries from contributing to a new multinational force.

Malloch Brown also criticized Washington's statement on the attacks which expressed shock and distress at the killings, but avoided blaming Israel.

Australia said the United States has asked it to contribute troops to the proposed force, but responded that any Australian contingent would be "very limited."

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