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Israeli envoy: Fire will cease when fire's put out

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Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Israeli warplanes attacked Beirut's southern suburbs early Friday and bombed major routes out of the capital to the north.

According to a Lebanese civil defense official, 25 people were killed by an Israeli airstrike in the Bekaa Valley village of Qaa in Lebanon.

"American Morning" anchor Soledad O'Brien talked to Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, about when the fighting might end.

O'BRIEN: First, can you comment at all? We just had [a report] updating us on the latest incident happening, Israeli aircraft apparently firing and, from what we can tell, killing maybe 25 people in southern Lebanon.

Any update that you've gotten on this?

GILLERMAN: Well, you know, sometimes -- actually it very often happens -- we get our news from CNN. So I'm not quite sure what happened there. We're still waiting for the findings. We will obviously look into it very carefully.

But what I have to make very, very clear is we never, ever target civilians. We are actually very cautious and very careful about not hurting any civilians. We'll have to look and see what happened to make sure that this information is right.

O'BRIEN: OK. Great. I appreciate that.

Let's take a little bit about the offensive which we're being told may be expanded 20 miles into Lebanon. Is that the plan right now?

GILLERMAN: I cannot give you any miles. I don't think it would be right to actually outline exactly the scope of the offensive. But we will do whatever it takes and however long it takes in order to make sure that the capability of the Hezbollah is degraded significantly, because, as you know, there's a lot of talk about a diplomatic solution and a political solution.

But this one would only be able to take place once the Hezbollah is made incapable of further terrorizing both Lebanon and Israel.

O'BRIEN: So there would be no agreement from your part on a cease-fire if you felt that Hezbollah still had some legs?

GILLERMAN: No, we would not agree to a cease-fire which would be just a lull, which would be a patchwork thing and which could erupt any moment.

We have to make sure that Hezbollah is indeed totally incapable, that there is an international -- robust, professional international force in place to make sure also that the Hezbollah is not armed again or rearmed again, and that the Hezbollah, in fact, can no longer terrorize either our women and children, or hold Lebanese women and children as human shields.

O'BRIEN: Condoleezza Rice was talking to Larry King on CNN yesterday, and she talked about phases. It seems that a plan may be to use that small U.N. force that's already in Lebanon, at first, first phase, and then later on bringing in a larger force to police things. (Full story)

Would that be acceptable to you? Or would that go against what you've just described?

GILLERMAN: Well, first of all, we trust Secretary Rice implicitly, both her professionalism and her diplomatic skills, and her integrity. So we're following very carefully and very involved in the negotiations.

I met yesterday both with the American ambassador to the U.N. and the French ambassador, who are very, very intimately involved in these negotiations. And there are indeed different ideas.

One idea which I believe nobody would endorse is having the existing U.N. force there doing anything, because that force, which is called UNIFIL, which stands for United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon...

O'BRIEN: Although, they've been there...

GILLERMAN: ... has been there for 28 years.

O'BRIEN: Right, exactly.

GILLERMAN: And have been totally incompetent, practically impotent in preventing attacks and doing anything. So they definitely could not be the answer even for one day. There would have to be a far more professional, a far more robust, a far more serious force in there to make sure that this kind of thing does not continue.

O'BRIEN: But if the U.N. comes up with a resolution that calls for an immediate cease-fire, and some other things that you may be agreeable to, the release of soldiers, et cetera, et cetera...

GILLERMAN: Right.

O'BRIEN: ... and you don't feel that Hezbollah has been sufficiently taken out, hammered -- and they are shooting hundreds of missiles into Israel every day, so some would argue that they are not in a position where they are being taken out -- would you turn down what the U.N. is putting on the table?

GILLERMAN: We would accept a solution which would be comprehensive, which would really take care of all the elements. And these go far beyond just a cease-fire, because a cease-fire by definition has a kind of temporary effect to it.

We need something permanent. We need something real. So we would not be acceptable to anything which does not guarantee a permanent cease-fire, which means that someone, whatever form it takes, some force, would have to come in and make sure that that happens. Until that happens, we will be there to make sure that Hezbollah is indeed being degraded and weakened to a point where it can no longer terrorize us.

O'BRIEN: I want to ask you one quick final question. We had a guy on yesterday from UNICEF... (CNN Access: Dan Toole)

GILLERMAN: Right.

O'BRIEN: ... and he said ... the people who are not Hezbollah, but who are citizens and civilians, who are desperate -- and he described utterly deplorable conditions. I'm sure you've heard them.

He says, "We need a window to get our supplies in, to get medicine in, to get gasoline in so those people can get out, they can be saved, or they are going to die." And he is predicting a huge, big, big crisis among the civilian population, not Hezbollah.

GILLERMAN: Right.

O'BRIEN: Why not agree to a window like that?

GILLERMAN: We have agreed, actually. We've had a 48-hour cease-fire which was specifically meant to be a humanitarian cease-fire during which medical equipment and help and food could be brought in.

O'BRIEN: He says more -- he says they need now 72 hours.

GILLERMAN: Well ... Israel is very, very concerned about civilian casualties and about the damage that has been caused. We grieve for every Lebanese child and we're very, very concerned about the problems which they have.

We have established two corridors, one by sea and one by land ... through which the United Nations and other agencies can actually provide all the aid they want. So that is in place.

We're working very closely with the United Nations organizations to make sure that it reaches the people. But everybody understands this is a war zone. This is not easy.

And any cease-fire at the moment will serve only one purpose, and that is allowing Hezbollah to regroup, to rearm, and to be able to continue the horrendous campaign of terror which they have been inflicting both on us and on the people of Lebanon.

So the next time the fire ceases will be after the fire has actually been extinguished.

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