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Olmert: Israel Will Study Lebanese Offer to Deploy Troops in South Lebanon


Israel's prime minister on Tuesday gave a cautious welcome to Lebanon's proposal to deploy its army in the southern part of the country - a Hezbollah stronghold. The comments come as three Israeli soldiers died in combat, and Israel warned the residents of the Lebanese city of Tyre they will strike any vehicles traveling south of the Litani River, which includes the city's port area.

Speaking at an impromptu news conference after meeting with Israel's president on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Lebanese government offer to deploy 15,000 Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon is "interesting and worthy of further consideration." Mr. Olmert says however if the Lebanese Army does move south it will have to be backed up by a "combat-ready" force of international peacekeepers.

"The exact make up of this is something that needs to be discussed rapidly, and I hope it will," he said. "It will be compromised of combat units, it will not be a force of inspectors, but rather a force of combat units that can be effective in helping to implement the content of resolution 1559."

Lebanon's offer to deploy its forces in southern Lebanon is backed by two Hezbollah members who sit in the Lebanese cabinet. Lebanon has rejected a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for a "cessation of hostilities" because the resolution allows Israel to leave its forces in Lebanon until international peacekeepers arrive.

President Bush has acknowledged that Israel and Lebanon disagree over the draft resolution but says the resolution is a good first step to stop the violence.

Ehud Olmert says Israel will not support a cease-fire until Hezbollah militants release two Israeli soldiers they captured on July 12, sparking the current crisis.

The Israeli leader also said Tuesday his cabinet will meet Wednesday to discuss the possible expansion of military operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Mr. Olmert says despite widespread media reports, no decision has been made yet about whether to move Israeli troops north to the Litani River, about 20-kilometers inside Lebanon.

He also refused to comment directly on whether Israel supports the current draft of the U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at "ending hostilities" saying Israel is waiting for a final draft. However he says the "faster that Israel can leave south Lebanon, the happier it will be."