Israel is 'preparing for more fighting'

By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
(Filed: 21/08/2006)

Any chance of long-term peace between Lebanon and Israel all but vanished last night after Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, said his country was preparing for another round of fighting.

Mr Peretz spoke only hours after Israeli commandos mounted a raid deep inside Lebanon. Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said it was a violation of the week-old UN ceasefire.

With talks on a beefed-up peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon apparently stalled, Mr Annan's senior envoy for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, said there was a danger of the situation "sliding out of control". Mr Peretz issued his warning during the weekly cabinet meeting when he promised full transparency in the internal inquiry into his government's handling of the 34-day conflict with Hizbollah.

"We will put everything on the table," he was quoted as saying. "Our duty is to prepare for the next round."

Lt Gen Dan Halutz, the head of the armed forces, admitted that the military had failed to land "a knockout blow" on the Shia militia.

With Israeli reservists returning from south Lebanon with stories of incompetence by commanders, public opinion is hardening against Ehud Olmert, the prime minister.