BEIRUT — A visiting United Nations envoy warned Sunday that breaches of the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah could hamper attempts to build a 15,000-member international peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon by alarming governments already reluctant to commit troops.
"What we have to do now is for all parties concerned to show utmost restraint to produce a situation that is so stable that troop contributors will come forward to hopefully reach the goal of 15,000" peacekeepers, envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said at a news conference.
His comments came a day after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Saturday's Israeli commando raid in Lebanon a violation of the Security Council resolution that last week ended 34 days of fighting.
Israel continued to defend the raid, which resulted in a clash with Hezbollah fighters that killed an Israeli officer. It said the attack was aimed at intercepting weapons flowing to Hezbollah from Syria.
"The U.N. resolution includes very clear instructions against the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah from Syria and Iran," said Israeli Cabinet minister Isaac Herzog. "This embargo needs to be implemented. As long as it isn't implemented, we have the right to verify that weapons don't go through."
Israel said its special operations would continue, citing what it contends is the slow pace of the Lebanese army's deployment into southern Lebanon and the sluggish response of the international community to the Security Council's request for peacekeepers.
In Washington, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended the Israeli raid.
"If we, in the United States, had someone on our northern border who was being resupplied, who had just attacked us, I think the American people would expect us to take preventive action," McCain, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
International troop commitments remain far below the U.N.'s 15,000 target, with Western governments pledging only a trickle so far.
Many governments say they are waiting for the U.N. to decide on the rules of engagement so they can assess the risk to their soldiers, noting that combatants in Lebanon had a long history of targeting foreign troops.
But Israel threw up a potential obstacle for the United Nations.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "security Cabinet" indicated it would not accept peacekeeping troops from countries that did not have diplomatic ties with Israel.
That would preclude soldiers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia, whose governments have been the only ones to offer significant numbers of front-line soldiers for the mission.
Olmert's office issued a statement Sunday urging Italy to assume responsibility for leading the international peacekeepers and for monitoring the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The Security Council resolution makes no mention of any government holding veto power over the force's composition.
"It is not up to Israel to decide on the countries which will make up a force that will be stationed in Lebanon," said a Lebanese official, who requested anonymity because his government had not officially commented on the matter.
Roed-Larsen commended the Lebanese army, which has started to deploy 15,000 soldiers to southern Lebanon to try to establish the government's authority.
Despite Israeli criticism, the Lebanese government said the operation was proceeding as well as could be expected.
"We are not concerned at all about the pace of our deployment," said Mohammed Chatah, an advisor to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "We are concerned that the Israeli withdrawal calendar is slow."
Times staff writers Laura King in Jerusalem and Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.