JERUSALEM, Aug 13: The Israeli cabinet endorsed a UN resolution on Sunday calling for an end to the month-long war in Lebanon, which a growing number of critics argue the Jewish state has failed to convert into victory.

“The government approved resolution 1701,” a senior government official said, with 24 ministers voting for and one abstaining.

During the nearly five-hour meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the resolution was “good for Israel,” the official said.

According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the ceasefire deal was reached after days of intense diplomatic wrangling in New York and was due to come into force on Monday at 0500 GMT.

The cabinet approved the deal ending the month-old bloodshed even as its troops pressed on with a massive ground offensive in Lebanon aimed at eradicating Hezbollah guerillas from a large swath of land in the south.

About 30,000 Israeli soldiers are involved in what the Israeli media has described as the largest ground operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

“Hezbollah will not finish as a huge hero, but with its tail between its legs,” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told army radio.

As the Israeli death toll soared, criticism of the Israeli political and military leadership’s handling of the conflict also mounted.

In an interview on Israeli television on Saturday, army chief Dan Halutz was grilled by reporters on the performance of the military, which has failed to break the back of Hezbollah, a well-trained militia backed by Syria and Iran.

According to most media in Israel, the country’s top political and military leaders will face an investigation into their handling of the conflict, which has left at least 110 soldiers and 41 civilians dead.

Israel said it hoped to have pushed as far as the strategic Litani River by Monday, when it would start a second phase of “cleaning up” operations.

Yet with Hezbollah vowing to fight until the last Israeli soldier leaves Lebanon and Israel stressing that it will respond to any attack on its troops or rocket fire, hopes of a complete ceasefire in the immediate future looked dim.

During the cabinet meeting, Trade Minister Eli Yishai issued a stark warning to Lebanon. “If a single stone is thrown at Israel from whatever village that happens, it should be turned into a pile of stones,” he said.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz told public radio that one of the aims of the assault was to “ensure that the forces expected to replace the Israeli army are in a position to implement what has been agreed, by dismantling Hezbollah and demilitarising south Lebanon.”—AFP

Masood Haider from UN adds: Kofi Annan announced on Saturday night that he had been in touch with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon and that both had agreed that the end of fighting would take effect at 8 am Monday in Lebanon and Israel.

“I am happy to announce that the two leaders have agreed that the cessation of hostilities and the end of the fighting will enter into force on Aug 14, at 0500 hours GMT,” Mr Annan said in a statement released here.

Many diplomats at the United Nations expressed their scepticism whether the fighting would abate anytime soon given the aggressive posture adopted by it and with Hezbollah promising retaliation if Israel attacks.

Late Friday, the Security Council adopted a resolution seeking a “full cessation” of violence between Israel and Hezbollah, offering the region its best chance yet for peace after a month of fighting.

As expected, the Lebanese government approved the cease-fire plan after more than five hours of debate that lasted long into the evening. Two ministers representing Hezbollah went along with the decision, though they expressed “reservations” about the resolution because it blamed Hezbollah for the war.

Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations — a term that Arab diplomats fear the Israeli military will interpret widely. A dispute over the Shebaa Farms area along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border will be left for later; and Israel won’t get its wish for an entirely new multinational force.