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Lebanese PM Appeals to Arab Ministers to Help End Conflict

Arab League foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Beirut Monday to discuss the Israeli offensive in Lebanon against Hezbollah militants, who have been firing rockets into Israel. The violence was triggered 27 days ago, when Hezbollah fighters kidnapped two Israeli soldiers during a raid into northern Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora made an emotional plea to Arab ministers to help end the conflict.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora appealed to Arab foreign ministers to help stop the conflict that, in his words, is cutting Lebanon to pieces.

He told the ministers, Lebanon "is in need today, before tomorrow, of a decisive, united Arab stand" to amend a U.N. Security Council draft resolution, which he said could be a positive step toward a permanent solution. The Lebanese government has complained that the draft resolution sponsored by the United States and France does not go far enough. He appealed to Arab states to use their influence to win changes to the draft.

After the meeting, Mr. Siniora told reporters that Arab League ministers gave their "complete, complete, complete backing to the seven points that the Lebanese government has adopted."

The Lebanese plan calls for, among other things, an immediate cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, and the expansion of the existing U.N. peacekeeping force in the area, as well as the deployment of the Lebanese army to the border and the disarming of Hezbollah.

Late Monday evening, Lebanese officials said the Cabinet unanimously approved a plan to send 15,000 soldiers to south Lebanon as soon as Israeli troops withdraw.

Mr. Siniora said the Arab League agreed to immediately dispatch a delegation to the United Nations to participate in a debate Tuesday regarding possible amendments to the draft resolution.

Just hours before the Arab League ministers arrived at Beirut's damaged and shuttered airport, Israeli airstrikes rocked the Lebanese capital. The airstrikes resumed briefly after the ministers left.

Lebanese television carried pictures of a collapsed building in a southern Shi'ite suburb and said casualties were feared.

Several dozen Lebanese were also killed in a new wave of Israeli air strikes across the country Monday, raising the death toll to nearly 1,000, and the prime minister expressed his frustration about the civilian casualties.

"I urge every man, every woman in the world -- of all the peace loving nations -- to see what crimes Israel is committing against Lebanon," said Mr. Siniora, "and to cry, to stand up, that we should not really tolerate this anymore. This should be stopped and stopped now. This is unacceptable."

Meanwhile, in a possible sign of expanded military operations, Israel warned Lebanese who live south of the Litani River not to go outdoors after 10:00 pm local time (1900 UTC). The Litani flows alongside the southern region that is a stronghold of Hezbollah militants who have been firing rockets from there into northern Israel.