Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres praised the recently-passed U.N. resolution that is aimed at putting an end to fighting in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah. In Washington Wednesday, he also told reporters that during the recent fighting, Israel let some Arab countries fly over Israel to bring humanitarian relief to Lebanon.
Deputy Prime Minister Peres said Israel was prepared to reject the U.N. resolution, but finally changed its mind following last minute U.S. efforts to include what he called "unprecedented items."
"For the first time, the Security Council, including Arabs, condemned Hezbollah as the aggressors. It never happened before," he said.
He spoke at a news conference organized by U.S. Jewish federations, which have launched a campaign to raise money for humanitarian relief for Israel. Early Israeli estimates place damage at more than $2 billion. More than 150 Israelis were killed.
Reconstruction costs for Lebanon are also expected to be significant. Fighting there killed more than 1,100 people and destroyed more than 15,000 homes.
When asked whether Israel plans to offer some of the aid money raised to help with humanitarian efforts in Lebanon, Peres said there are other ways Israel has already helped Lebanon.
"Even during the war, some Arab countries wanted to send civilian aid to Lebanon, and we agreed that they will over-fly Israel," he added. "We let them over-fly Israel during the war."
But when asked for specifics, he said he could not identify the Arab countries or say how many were involved because, in his words, he does not want to "embarrass" them. He added that Israel was careful to ensure that these flights were not used to provide arms to Hezbollah.
Peres also told reporters his government's position is that Hezbollah should unconditionally release the two Israeli soldiers who have been taken hostage.
"To the best of our information, they [the two soldiers] are alive and healthy," he noted. "Secondly, in the preamble of the United Nations resolution, there is a clear call to release them without conditions and without trading. And we expect that this will be implemented."
Peres added that, Israel has also learned that Hezbollah has acquired more advanced equipment, including sophisticated missiles from China and Russia.
Separately, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a meeting of American Jewish organizations in New York that Israel's war with Hezbollah is not over until the U.N. resolution to end the conflict is fully implemented.
Meanwhile, the French government says it is ready to take over command of an enlarged U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, at least until February.