Israeli war on Hezbollah sparks diplomatic frenzy

JERUSALEM — Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity surrounding the conflict in Lebanon, Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the United States has offered a plan for ending Israel's bombardment of Lebanon and Hezbollah's rocket attacks on northern Israel.

While Peres said he welcomed the American initiative, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said it would be difficult for Lebanon to accept the U.S. plan.

The proposal reportedly calls for a Lebanese government commitment to rein in the Shiite Hezbollah movement's activities and stop its rocket attacks on northern Israel.

In exchange for a pledge from Beirut to keep peace in southern Lebanon, Israel would agree to begin negotiations about withdrawing its forces from its security zone.

The proposal also reportedly calls for Israel to stop its current military operation in Lebanon. But it would maintain the option of responding should Hezbollah resume its attacks on Israel.

Syria would also be involved as a guarantor of the Lebanese side of the agreement, according to reports.

U.S. sources in Israel were quoted as saying the State Department's Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, was coordinating contacts among the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian ambassadors in Washington, D.C.

The escalating conflict in Lebanon and northern Israel has prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity that extends beyond the American initiative.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Kabariti said after a meeting Tuesday with Peres, "There is a sense of alarm in Jordan." Jordan's King Hussein called Israel's moves a threat to the peace process.

French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette arrived in Israel Monday for talks with Peres and Foreign Minister Ehud Barak in an effort to secure a cease-fire.

Diplomats with the European Union in Brussels reportedly criticized France for acting alone and said the move could undermine the European bloc's credibility.

An E.U. delegation is also planning to visit the Middle East in the coming days in an effort to stop the fighting. Also in Israel on Monday was British Defense Minister Michael Portillo, who voiced his country's support for the Israeli actions.

"It is the right of every country to have security and to defend herself," he said.

Peres said Monday that Israel would consider a diplomatic solution, but that the military operation which began April 11 would stop only after the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement ceased launching rocket attacks on northern Israel.

The Israeli raids on targets in Lebanon came after Hezbollah unleashed a Katyusha attack April 9 on northern Israel.

In hopes of winning an end to the Hezbollah attacks, the Israeli military campaign, Operation Grapes of Wrath, is at least partly aimed at pressuring the Beirut government into reining in the fundamentalist group.

The Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, said the massive wave of 400,000 Lebanese refugees fleeing the repeated Israeli bombardments of targets in southern Lebanon would force the Lebanese government into action.

"This flood of people is going to put pressure on the Lebanese government, and in turn, on Hezbollah," Shahak said Sunday.