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Mideast Fighting Continues as Diplomacy Gathers Steam

Israel launched air strikes, commando raids and heavy ground combat operations Saturday against Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Hezbollah militants continued rocket attacks against northern Israel. In New York, the United States and France reached agreement on a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution, aimed at reaching a cease-fire. Israeli officials say they support a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but, for now, combat operations will continue until they reach their goal of ending what they describe as the Hezbollah threat to Israel.

Hezbollah missiles rained down on northern Israel Saturday, as they have for more than three weeks now. Israel's air force kept up incessant air strikes against targets in Lebanon, and Israeli ground troops continued their operations to search out and destroy the Katyusha rocket launchers that have forced hundreds-of-thousands of Israelis to flee the northern part of their country.

In the first sign that fighting could end in the near future, the United States and France reached agreement Saturday on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution. The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the draft, says it calls for a full cessation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. However, the draft text reportedly allows Israel to respond, if attacked by Hezbollah.

Speaking in New York, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said diplomats will work as quickly as possible to see that the resolution is adopted.

"We are prepared to move as other members of the council want to move," he said. "I am not very good at predictions or reactions, so we will have to see. But, once we circulate it today, the assumption is that members will want to refer it to their capitals and get reactions. But we are prepared to move as quickly as we can."

The Associated Press reports, the resolution calls for the current U.N. force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, to observe the end of fighting. Once Israel and Hezbollah agree to a series of unspecified steps for a long-term settlement, the Security Council would authorize a new international peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon.

The agreement ends more than a week of deadlocked talks at the U.N. between the United States and France, but there is no indication yet whether Israel and Hezbollah will agree to all of its provisions. Speaking shortly after the agreement was announced, a Hezbollah cabinet member, Mohammed Fneish, said Hezbollah will agree to a ceasefire only when all Israeli soldiers leave Lebanon.

Speaking before the announcement was made, Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel understands that fighting alone will not end the conflict.

"I think everyone in Israel understands that we can hit Hezbollah, and we are hitting Hezbollah hard," he said. "The idea is to defend our citizens and prevent them [Hezbollah] from launching rockets and targeting Israeli cities and civilians. Having said that, the real solution is diplomatic, the real solution is political, and that is for the Lebanese government, with the support of the international community to disarm Hezbollah, as they should, according to the relevant U.N. resolutions."

Fighting began more than three weeks ago, after Hezbollah militants stormed across the Israeli border and abducted two Israeli soldiers, killing eight others in the attack.

Speaking Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said any agreement to end the fighting must include the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers.