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Diplomatic Efforts Intensify to End Israeli-Lebanese Crisis

The sixth day of Israeli bombardment of Lebanon on Monday killed more than 40 people, bringing the death toll in the country to over 200, mostly civilians. Another 24 people have been killed in Israel, where the militant group Hezbollah has been firing rockets at Israeli cities from southern Lebanon. Diplomatic efforts are intensifying to end the crisis between Israel and Lebanon, even as casualty figures climb.

A blizzard of high-level diplomatic visits to Lebanon and Israel has so far produced no results, but attempts to end the violence continue. The U.N. secretary- general's political adviser, Vijay Nambiar, met with Lebanese officials Monday before shuttling off to Jerusalem.

"I can announce today that we have made some promising first efforts on the way forward," said Vijay Nambiar. "My team has discussed concrete ideas with the Lebanese authorities. We leave shortly for Israel, where we will convey these ideas for further discussion. As developments warrant, it may become necessary for us to return to Lebanon to explore these ideas further."

The Lebanese prime minister also met with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the highest-level international official to come to Beirut since the crisis erupted on Wednesday.

Mr. de Villepin called for an "immediate humanitarian truce" between Israel and Hezbollah, and backed a proposal to send some sort of international monitors to southern Lebanon. The U.N. already has peacekeepers in the south, but several EU nations and Russia say they could be willing to send more.

The foreign minister of Iran suggested a ceasefire and then a prisoner swap. He spoke on a visit to Damascus. Both Syria and Iran are major backers of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which sparked the crisis by capturing two Israeli soldiers Wednesday in a brazen cross-border raid.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated some softening of Israel's demands. He told the Israeli parliament that Israel would stop its military offensive in Lebanon after the soldiers were returned and the Lebanese army deploys along the Israeli border in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is now the de facto authority.

Prominent Lebanese human rights lawyer Chibli Mallat told VOA that in his view, a binding resolution from the U.N. Security Council is the only diplomatic path to a solution.

"The difficulty is to find a resolution that is acceptable to all parties, including Israel and Hezbollah, and if not, the sort of coercion or the groundwork that this resolution will have to include in order to be effective," said Chibli Mallat.

Mallat, who has declared himself a candidate for the Lebanese presidency, said that despite their absolutist rhetoric, both Israel and Hezbollah probably realize that some kind of deal must be made.

"The compromise has to be clearly on what sort of long-lasting solution that makes the border between Israel and Lebanon impermeable to military action," he said. "That is not easy, but that I think is the only possible solution to this crisis."

Two different news agencies on Monday quoted senior Israeli defense officials as saying the military campaign in Lebanon will go on for at least another week, but will eventually have to end because of international pressure.