UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Friday that calls for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and authorizes the deployment of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon as Israel withdraws.
The draft, adopted unanimously, is the first significant Council response to the crisis and offers the best chance yet for peace in the month-long conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted the cease-fire deal and informed the United States Friday of his decision, officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief journalists on internal discussions.
Olmert will also, according to the sources, recommend that his government approve the deal when it meets again on Sunday.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said early Saturday that Israeli forces will continue the offensive in southern Lebanon until the cease-fire agreement is approved by the Cabinet.
A continued military operation would pave the way for the eventual takeover of Lebanese troops along the Israel-Lebanon border, Regev said.
Some 15,000 Lebanese troops and 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers are to deploy in south Lebanon as part of the truce deal, and keep Hezbollah guerrillas away from Israel.
"The logic would be that even in the framework of this successful outcome, if you hand over to the Lebanese army a cleaner south Lebanon, a south Lebanon where you have Hezbollah removed from the territory, that makes their (the Lebanese) troubles a lot easier," Regev said.
The agreement came as Israeli forces earlier threatened to lobby a lightning strike against Hezbollah and troops made their way across the Lebanon border.
The resolution authorizes the deployment of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon to support Lebanon's forces in the region "as Israel withdraws."
The resolution asks the U.N. force to monitor a full cessation of hostilities and help Lebanese forces gain full control over an area that has previously been under de facto control of Hezbollah militias.
The text of the draft says the force's mandate would include several elements: monitoring the cessation of hostilities, accompanying Lebanese troops as they deploy and as Israel withdraws, and ensuring humanitarian access to the area.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the resolution would give U.N. forces in south Lebanon a mandate under Chapter 6 of the U.N. Charter — which Israel has previously opposed. But she said the mandate would be modified to make the force stronger than it's been in the 28 years it has been in south Lebanon.
The U.N. force, known by its acronym UNIFIL, would help coordinate the deployment of Lebanese forces to the south, which has been under de facto control of Hezbollah militias for years. Israeli troops that have occupied the area in more than four weeks of fighting would then withdraw.
The U.S. and France had originally wanted UNIFIL force deployed under the Charter's Chapter 7, which would give the troops even more robust rules of engagement. But Lebanon objected because of its fears that such a mandate would make the peacekeepers look like occupiers.
"You never get a deal like this with everybody getting everything that they want," Beckett said. "The question is, has everybody got enough for this to stick and for it to be enforceable? Nobody wants to go back to where we were before this last episode started."
Israel, backed by the United States, is chiefly concerned that Hezbollah not be allowed to regain its strength south Lebanon once a cessation of hostilities goes into effect. Washington has supported Israel's insistence on staying in southern Lebanon until a robust international force is deployed.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora received a copy of the U.S.-French draft resolution, government officials said. He was studying the document and contacting politicians for their input, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The officials refused to say whom Saniora was talking with, but the leading Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., said he was in touch with Hezbollah officials as well as parliament speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah's de facto negotiator.
The announcement of the new text came after a morning of heated negotiations between senior diplomats, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Beckett, to accommodate concerns from both sides.
A senior U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. and France envision a 10-day time frame between the moment a halt to the hostilities is declared and when UNIFIL troops go into action in the south.
The deal also renders moot a Russian-proposed draft resolution calling for a blanket 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Lebanon. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had said he was increasingly impatient about the diplomatic efforts because the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon was reaching "catastrophic" proportions.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also expressed frustration that the council had yet to take action.
"I think we've had enough discussions," he said. "The issues have been discussed all around and it is time for decision, and I hope the council will take firm action today."
More than 800 people have died in the month-long conflict, hundreds of Lebanese civilians and dozens of Israelis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.