Israel, Lebanon Agree to Cease-Fire on Border

JERUSALEM -- Declaring that Israel is "not interested in the destruction of Lebanon," Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced agreement Friday to halt two weeks of bloody rocket and artillery exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas.

"We have achieved the goal of our mission, which was to achieve an agreement to save lives and end the suffering of people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border,'' said U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who joined Peres in making the announcement.

The agreement will take effect Saturday.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri also announced a halt to the bombardment would take effect from the Lebanese side Saturday, but he said, "The final and permanent solution is to see Israel leave our territory."

One hour and 45 minutes before Hariri's news conference, Hezbollah guerrillas unleashed salvos of Katyusha rockets on northern Israel. The Israeli Army said rockets fell in the Galilee panhandle but gave no other details.

Forty minutes after the announcements, Israeli gunboats fired on the coastal highway, further demolishing the region's infrastructure.

Hariri said under a written "understanding" reached with U.S., Syrian and French help, Israel and Lebanon also pledged to spare civilians on both sides of the border.

"We will do our best to make sure that this will be respected," he said at the news conference held with French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette. "This understanding will lead to stability and to the protection of civilians."

In Jerusalem, Christopher called for an early resumption of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.

"Israel is strengthened by this agreement," said Peres.

The agreement was the culmination of a week of shuttle diplomacy by Christopher, who also thanked the foreign ministers from other countries who came to the region in an effort to mediate a cease-fire. Among them were Ali Akbar Velayati of Iran, Herve de Charette of France and Yevgeny Primakov of Russia.

Peres, however, gave Christopher full credit for negotiating the cease-fire.

Peres said the agreement includes no limitations on the Israeli Army which operates in an occupied zone in southern Lebanon.

"We are not interested in the destruction of Lebanon," said Peres. "We are not interested in the division of Lebanon. I want to make it clear to the leaders of Lebanon, we have no territorial desires on Lebanon."

Israel and Lebanon committed themselves to ensure that "under no circumstances will civilians be the target of attack."

The parties also stipulated that "civilian population areas and industrial and electrical installations will not be used as launching grounds for attacks."

A monitoring committee composed of the United States, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and France will oversee the cease-fire.

Christopher said the committee will have technical experts "who can assess various situations," said Christopher. "If there are alleged violations of the agreement, they can be brought to attention of the monitoring committee."

The agreement was in writing but not signed by any of the parties.

Christopher said the fact that it was in writing should make it "more enduring and less susceptible to misinterpretation."

On the last two days of his week-long shuttle, Christopher jetted back and forth between Damascus and Jerusalem during the frenzied final hours of negotiating.

The 70-year-old secretary of state had three hours' sleep this morning and then had breakfast with Peres and senior Israeli military and policy officials before returning to Syria early Friday.

A sticking point in the negotiations was whether Israel would have broad authority to attack guerrillas who appear to be civilians.

Before the announcement, Israeli forces continued attacks on southern Lebanon. It was the 16th day of an aerial, naval and artillery blitz that has demolished roads and electric and water facilities in the region.

UN officers in south Lebanon said Hezbollah gunners fired at least 40 Katyusha rockets at northern Israel between dusk Thursday and dawn Friday. At least two Israelis were wounded and a factory was damaged.

The officers said Israel had targeted water and electricity facilities and road networks in 40 overnight bombing sorties by warplanes and helicopter gunships.

Most of the attacks occurred around the port city of Tyre and to the east in the market town of Nabatiyeh. But Israeli air raids Friday struck Hezbollah strongholds east of Sidon, the provincial capital of south Lebanon.