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Each side claims victory in wary truce

02 November 2006

THE WEEKS of warfare in Lebanon and northern Israel have been superseded ba period of tension, as international diplomacy seeks to dig foundations fopeac
It will not be easy. After 34 days of fighting, the two sides arpresenting its outcome in starkly contrasting ways. For some days before thceasefire was agreed, it was clear that a decisive result was out of thquestion. So, having bowed to international pressure to stop the fighting, botparties need to sell the outcome to their constituents as a victor
Senior Israeli officials said that their country's reaction to thHizbollah abductions on 12 July, and the subsequent rocket barrages, served aa warning to any other party that might be tempted to meddle with the Jewisstate. At the same time, Hizbollah officials, backed by those in Syria anIran, declared that Israel - in agreeing to a ceasefire - had been defeatedPresident Bashar al-Assad of Syria said Hizbollah had "hoisted the banner ovictory".
In this atmosphere, one spark could easily re-ignite thconflict, once more putting in danger the thousands of Lebanese who have beestreaming back to their homes.
The biggest problem will bdefining the mandate for the planned 15,000-strong international force, whichalongside Lebanese army troops, will serve as a buffer between Hizbollah anIsrael. Only then will governments, probably led by France and Turkey, bwilling to commit their soldiers.
Israel will certainly not agreto the force's deployment until there is unequivocal evidence that Hizbollahas been disarmed. Nor will Hizbollah countenance disarmament until it iconvinced that an Israeli withdrawal has begun. As the French Minister oForeign Affairs, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said, as he set off to discuss with thLebanese government how Hizbollah was to be disarmed: "Time is of the essence
If diplomacy cannot meet the brief but unspecified timescale, then Israeand Hizbollah will be tempted to consolidate what each is calling a victory iLebano

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